– in the House of Commons at 5:00 pm on 13th March 2023.
The reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition has been selected.
As Members can see, there is a great deal of interest in this debate. The first few speeches will come in at six minutes, but if everyone else could start to think in terms of four or three minutes, that would be very helpful. I now call the Secretary of State to move the motion for Second Reading.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. On the first page of the Bill, the Home Secretary has made the phenomenal statement that it may not be compatible with the European convention on human rights. Section 19 of the Human Rights Act 1998 confers on the Government a duty to ensure that
“the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the Convention”.
Ensuring that compatibility is not only a basic moral requirement of the Government, but a practical necessity. The Government have said that this is critical legislation, and they are therefore presenting to the House clauses that they know will probably be ruled unlawful by a court of law. Surely, Mr Deputy Speaker, if the Government want to have a fight with the courts, they should have a fight with the courts, and not waste the House’s time with this nefarious legislation.
I am grateful for the point of order. This is not something on which the Chair can adjudicate, but I am sure that it will be part of the debate, which I think we should start now.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
The British public know that border security is national security, and that illegal migration makes us all less safe. They know that the financial and social costs of uncontrolled and illegal migration are unsustainable. They know that if our borders are to mean anything, we must control who comes into this country and the terms on which they remain here. That is why stopping the boats is my top priority, it is why the Prime Minister made stopping the boats one of his five promises to the British people, and it is why, according to the opinion polls, the British people back the Government’s Bill: they back it by more than two to one.
This does not mean that, as some assert, the British people are xenophobic. Since 2015, the British people have provided refuge for nearly half a million people through global, safe and legal routes. The British people are fair, compassionate and generous. Millions of legal migrants, including my parents, have experienced this warmth at first hand. But the British people are also realistic. They know that our capacity to help people is not unlimited.
Does the Home Secretary think that the British public want to see children and pregnant women detained in immigration detention centres? I do not believe for a minute that they do, but that is what is in the Bill.
This is what the British people want to see: they want to stop people dying in the channel. That is what this is about. It is naive to suggest that it is lawful and appropriate to make this journey. People are dying, and we need to stop it. Since 2018, some 85,000 people have illegally entered the United Kingdom in small boats, 45,000 of them last year alone. They have overwhelmed our asylum system. Local authorities simply do not have the housing or the public service capacity to support everyone.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving way so early in her speech. Is she personally satisfied that there is enough provision for vulnerable children in the proposals that she is presenting tonight?
I will go into this in detail, but yes, vulnerable people will be receiving appropriate safeguarding and welfare support.
The British taxpayer cannot continue to fork out £6 million a day on hotels to house illegal arrivals. Let us be honest, the vast majority of arrivals—74% in 2021—were adult males under the age of 40. The vast majority were not pregnant women or young children. All travelled through safe countries such as France in which they could and should have first claimed asylum. Many came directly from safe countries such as Albania. When we try to remove them, they turn our generous asylum laws against us to thwart removal.
Does the Home Secretary agree that when 70 Labour MPs, including the Leader of the Opposition, signed a letter campaigning for the release of dangerous foreign criminals who we want to remove from the UK, they exposed themselves as pro-open borders and unlimited immigration and put themselves on the side of the criminal rather than on the side of the public?
My hon. Friend puts it very well. What we have here is naive do-gooders who would rather campaign to prevent the removal of foreign national offenders, one of whom tragically went on to kill another, than vote in favour of our measures that would have toughened up the sanctions on foreign national offenders.
I am going to make some progress.
The reality is that the system is simply unfair. It is unfair on the most vulnerable, it is unfair on those who play by the rules and it is unfair on the British people, so we must change the law and we must stop the boats. For too long, those of us voicing concerns about the effects of uncontrolled, unprecedented and illegal migration have been accused of inflammatory rhetoric, but nothing is more likely to inflame tensions than ignoring the public’s reasonable concerns about the current situation. The public are neither stupid nor bigoted. They can see at first hand the impact on their communities and it is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.
Speaking of acting responsibly, I want to put something on the record. It is perfectly respectable for a child of immigrants like me to say that I am deeply grateful to live here and that immigration has been overwhelmingly good for the United Kingdom, but also to say that we have had too much of it in recent years and that uncontrolled and illegal migration is simply bad.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that in the last couple of years, when we have seen exponential growth in this human trafficking across the channel, the money that people can ill afford to spend on these criminals has been used to make their trade even more effective, putting yet more lives in danger?
My right hon. Friend puts it very well. We now have a sophisticated, well resourced, multibillion-pound trade of illegal people smuggling and human trafficking. It is pan-national and it needs to stop.
I am going to make progress.
Despite the reasonable concerns that we have raised on several occasions, I am, like my right hon. Friend Priti Patel before me, subject to the most grotesque slurs for saying such simple truths about the impact of unlimited and illegal migration. The worst among them, poisoned by the extreme ideology of identity politics, suggests that a person’s skin colour should dictate their political views. I will not be hectored by out-of-touch lefties, or anyone for that matter. I will not be patronised on what are the appropriate views for someone of my background to hold. And I will not back down when faced with spurious accusations of bigotry, when such smears seep into the discourse of this Chamber as they did last week. Accusations that this Government’s policies, which are backed by the majority of the British people, are bigoted, xenophobic or a dog whistle to racists are irresponsible and frankly beneath the dignity of this place. Politicians of all stripes should know better, and they should choose their words carefully.
Those who cast their criticism of the Bill in moral terms ignore certain truths. First, they ignore that we have a moral duty to stop the boats. People are dying in the channel. They are taking journeys that are unsafe, unnecessary and unlawful.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am sure you will agree with the Home Secretary that we should all choose our words carefully in this debate, so what part of “carefully” does her statement about an “invasion” constitute, or the exaggeration by Dame Andrea Leadsom in her use of the word “exponential”?
I think in this particular case it is a matter for the individual person making the speech. I will say at the outset, though, that we are clearly dealing with a very emotive subject and I ask everybody to use temperate language rather than inflaming the situation. [Interruption.] We will leave it there.
I appreciate your instruction to all our colleagues, Mr Deputy Speaker.
The way to stop these deaths is to stop the boats. Secondly, the critics ignore the fact that our policy does in fact guarantee humanitarian protection for those who genuinely need it. Our policy is profoundly and at its heart a humane attempt to break the incentive that sustains the business model of the smuggling gangs. People pay thousands of pounds to make these journeys to the UK.
As the Secretary of State probably knows, I chair the all-party parliamentary group on international freedom of religion or belief. Many people across the world are persecuted, discriminated against or abused physically, and have to leave their countries. Some of those, as she will know, are living in other countries, and it is taking so long to process their applications so that they can get here. She probably shares my opinion that is important that true asylum seekers get the opportunity to come here. Can she assure me and the House that those who are persecuted or discriminated against will have the opportunity to come here for asylum?
We have a proud and extensive tradition of offering refuge to hundreds of thousands of people who apply according to our system and our criteria. I am proud of the refuge and security that we have provided to people fleeing the very circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman refers.
By ensuring that people do not remain here, we are removing their incentive to make the journey in the first place. But crucially, if people are truly in need of protection, they will receive protection in Rwanda. Critics overwhelmingly fail to acknowledge that fact. Let us be clear: Rwanda is a dynamic country with a thriving economy. I have enjoyed visiting it myself, twice, and I look forward to visiting it again.
Is the Home Secretary also worried that the criminal gangs that are exploiting people in this dreadful way for great profit may also be linked to other types of serious crime and helping to finance other destabilisation?
I am afraid that my right hon. Friend raises a very worrying fact about what we are seeing. When I have spoken to police chiefs around the country, they tell me that criminality—particularly drug supply and usage—is now connected to people who came here illegally on small boats in the first place.
Thirdly, Rwanda is a fundamentally safe country, as affirmed by the High Court. It has a proud track record of helping the world’s most vulnerable, including refugees, for the United Nations.
People who are same-sex attracted and trans people are not covered by anti-discrimination laws in Rwanda. Does the Home Secretary think that makes it a safe country for gay people and trans people?
I am sure the hon. and learned Lady has read the High Court judgment, which is an exhaustive and authoritative analysis by senior, learned judges of how our world-leading Rwanda partnership complies with international obligations, including the European convention on human rights and the refugee convention. It has been deemed to be a proper, lawful partnership. I refer her to the judgment.
I have to make some progress. I have taken quite a lot of interventions, I am afraid.
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary. I find it odd that so many Opposition Members are trying their best to trip her up on a policy that is incredibly important to every community in this country. [Interruption.] Although they try to shout me down, let me say that my Gloucester constituency is a happy, cohesive, multiracial and multi-ethnic society with a primary school that has more than 50 different nationalities. I know, because I speak to them, that most ethnic minority communities are very sensitive to getting the balance right. If we get it wrong, they will feel the backlash more than anyone else. It will not be felt by SNP MPs who do not have asylum seekers in their constituencies. [Interruption.]
Order. I want not just temperate language but temperate behaviour.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Can you advise on how we might correct the record? The perplexing and misleading statement made by Richard Graham is profoundly unhelpful in the context of this debate.
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. No one in this House wishes to cause any offence. If I have done so, of course I apologise. We have two hotels full of asylum seekers in my constituency, and I would be very interested to know how many hotels full of asylum seekers there are in the constituencies of SNP Members. [Interruption.]
Order. I have a couple of points before we resume. Interventions are now eating into the time allotted to Back Benchers, so some simply will not get in. Points of order are doing the exact same, so I caution Members, if they are to raise points of order, to make sure they are for the Chair. [Interruption.] The answer to this point of order, as Joanna Cherry knows, is that Members are responsible for their own contributions. If anything untoward is said, they should correct the record at the earliest opportunity, which I believe Mr Graham has done.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend Richard Graham. He is absolutely right about Scotland where, until recently, only Glasgow was taking asylum seekers. Compared with the other nations of the United Kingdom, Scotland has taken a disproportionately low number. He is also right to talk about the risks we face as a country that is harmonious, happy with itself and cohesive. If we do not deal with this problem, we will face serious problems of community tension and challenges to community cohesion.
I am going to make some progress. A lot of Members want to contribute to this debate.
The United Nations has confirmed that, globally, there are 100 million displaced people. Our critics simultaneously pretend that the United Kingdom does not have any safe and legal routes and that these routes should also be unlimited. The small boats crisis demonstrates that countless economic migrants are willing to take a chance to come here in search of a better life. How many of them do the Opposition think we have to take to stop the boats?
The Opposition have not been able to answer that question. Those arguing for open borders via unlimited safe and legal routes are, of course, entitled to do so, but they should do so honestly. They should not try to deceive the public by dressing up what is an extreme political argument in the fake garb of humanitarianism, nor should they pretend that the UK does not have safe and legal global routes. In recent years, our country-specific routes have provided refuge for 150,000 people leaving autocracy in Hong Kong, 160,000 Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s horrific war and 25,000 Afghans escaping the Taliban. Another 50,000 people have come to the UK via routes open to people from any country, including the UK resettlement scheme, which includes community sponsorship, the mandate resettlement scheme, and, crucially, the family reunion route for those with a qualifying family member in the UK.
We are proud of those safe and legal routes. When we stop the boats, we will look to expand those routes. The Bill introduces an annual cap, determined by Parliament, on the number of refugees that the UK will resettle via safe and legal routes. This will ensure an orderly system that considers local authority capacity for housing, public services and support.
The Bill enables the detention of illegal arrivals without bail or judicial review within the first 28 days of detention. We can maintain detention thereafter under current laws, so long as we have a reasonable prospect of removal. This reflects the existing common law position, consistent with article 5 of the ECHR. The Bill places a duty on the Home Secretary to remove illegal entrants and, significantly, narrows the number of challenges and appeals that can suspend removal.
The former Home Secretary, Priti Patel, said:
“Anyone who arrives illegally will be deemed inadmissible and either returned to the country they arrived from or a safe third country.”
As a result, 18,000 people were considered inadmissible to the UK asylum system and just 21 people were returned. That is just 0.1%. What has changed with this Bill, and what percentage of those deemed inadmissible does the Home Secretary expect to be returned?
I have to correct the right hon. Lady on the fallacy under which she is operating. We are returning people who do not have a legal basis to be in this country. There are many ways to look at the numbers. Since the Prime Minister’s announcement, for example, we have returned 600 people to Albania. Last year alone, we returned 14,000 people. It is a fallacy to suggest that there are no returns and that we are somehow not removing people who do not have a right to be here.
Only those who are under 18, who are medically unfit to fly or who are at real risk of serious and irreversible harm will be able to delay their removal. Any other claims will be heard remotely after removal. When we passed our world-leading Modern Slavery Act 2015, the impact assessment envisaged 3,500 referrals a year.
I wonder if my right hon. and learned Friend would make a point of clarification. She has implied that people will be unable to claim asylum in the UK and will be removed immediately, or potentially after 28 days’ detention. Paragraph 5.1 of our memorandum of understanding with Rwanda requires the United Kingdom to be responsible for the initial screening of asylum seekers. Will she explain what that screening will be, if not the screening of claims?
We have an extensive system of screening for everyone who arrives in the UK via a small boat. That is effectively what our Manston centre is designed for. People undergo security checks, biometric checks and any other identity checks, so we undertake an extensive screening process here.
I am sorry, but I am going to have to make some progress. When our world-leading Modern Slavery Act 2015 was passed, the impact assessment envisaged 3,500 referrals a year. That Act of Parliament was an important step forward in protecting vulnerable people from the abuses of human trafficking and modern slavery, and I am incredibly proud of it. But last year there were 17,000 referrals, which took on average 543 days to consider. The most referred nationality in 2022 were citizens of Albania, a safe European country, a NATO ally and a signatory of the European convention against trafficking. In 2021, 73% of people detained for removal put forward a modern slavery claim, which compares with a figure of just 3% for those not in detention. We have also seen a number of foreign national offenders who, after serving their sentences for some of the most despicable crimes, such as murder and rape, have, on the point of removal, put in a last-minute claim of modern slavery to thwart their deportation. The fact is that our modern slavery laws are being abused.
Can the Home Secretary tell this House how many of that 17,000 increase was made up of British people, including British children? Until this year, they made up the largest group of people who have increased in the numbers—we are talking about British children. Will she also point out to the House exactly who makes the referrals into the human trafficking system in our country? Is it, in fact, done under her auspices, as Home Secretary, and those of the Home Office? Can people claim it, or is it actually her office that has to say whether they can do so?
What we have seen is that a large and growing proportion of modern slavery claims have been made by people who have arrived here illegally. And, as I just mentioned, there are foreign national offenders, people who have served their criminal sentences, who have upon the point of removal put in a last-minute modern slavery claim precisely to thwart their deportation. We work very closely with local authorities and other bodies to ensure that referrals are made into the mechanism. This is why the Bill will disqualify illegal entrants from using modern slavery rules in this way.
Given the mischaracterisation of the Bill by Opposition Members, I would like to make a few things clear. The Home Secretary’s duty to remove will not be applied to detain and remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Consistent with current policy, only in limited circumstances, such as for the purposes of family reunion, will we remove unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from the UK. Otherwise, they will be provided with the necessary support in the UK until they reach 18.
With respect to the removal of families and pregnant women, it bears repeating that the overwhelming majority of illegal arrivals are adult men under the age of 40. Removing them will be our primary focus, but we must not create incentives for the smugglers to focus on people with particular characteristics by signposting exemptions for removal. It is right that we retain powers to adapt our policy so that we can respond to any change in tactics by the smuggling gangs.
Those critics who say that this Bill will be found to be unlawful said the same thing about our partnership with Rwanda—the High Court disagreed. Some of the nation’s finest legal minds have been and continue to be involved in the Bill’s development. The UK will always seek to uphold international law and we are confident that this Bill will deliver what is necessary, within those parameters. Section 19 of the Human Rights Act requires Ministers to give a view on the level of legal certainty on a Bill’s compliance with the European convention on human rights. That is a unique UK requirement, not part of the ECHR itself. A section 19(1)(b) statement simply means that we are unable to say decisively that this Bill is compatible with the ECHR. It is clear that there are good arguments for compatibility but that some of the Bill’s measures are novel and legally untested. Those on the Opposition Benches seem to forget that section 19(1)(b) statements were made by the Labour Government on the Communications Act 2003 and by the Lib Dems on the House of Lords Reform Bill in 2012. That did not mean that those Bills were unlawful and this statement does not mean that this one is either.
Claims that the Bill will breach our refugee convention obligations are simply fatuous. The convention obliges parties to provide protection to those seeking refuge. It does not require that this protection be in the UK. Illegal arrivals requiring protection will receive it in a safe third country such as Rwanda. Moreover, article 31 of the convention is clear that individuals may be removed if they do not come “directly” from the territory where their freedom is threatened. Denying those arriving illegally from France, or any other safe country in which they could have claimed asylum, access to the UK’s asylum system is, therefore, entirely consistent with the spirit and letter of the convention.
The Opposition say that this Bill cannot work because we lack the capacity to detain all small boat arrivals. We are expanding detention capacity, with two new immigration removal centres, but clearly we are not building capacity to detain 40,000 people, nor do we need to. The aim of the Bill is not to detain people but to swiftly remove them. Australia achieved success against a similar problem of illegal maritime migration. It reduced annual crossings from 20,000 to hundreds in a matter of months, in large part by operationalising swift third country removals. It did not need tens of thousands of detention places either. If we can demonstrate to people willing to pay thousands of pounds to illegally enter the UK that there is a reasonable prospect that they will be detained and removed, we are confident that crossings will reduce significantly.
In addition, arguments that our approach cannot work because Rwanda lacks capacity are wrong. Let me be clear: our partnership with Rwanda is uncapped. We stand ready to operationalise it at scale as soon as is legally practicable. It is understandable that Rwanda has not procured thousands of beds to accommodate arrivals while legal challenges are ongoing.
The Home Secretary has just admitted that Rwanda does not have thousands of places. She will know that the Rwandan Government have talked about taking a few hundred people and that the Rwanda High Court agreement says that cases need to be individualised, yet she is expecting to find locations for tens of thousands of people expected to arrive this year. She has no returns agreement with France or any other European country, so where is she expecting to send the tens of thousands of people expected to arrive in the UK this year?
The right hon. Member should read our agreement with Rwanda before she makes a comment such as that. If she did read it, and if she read the judgment from the High Court, she would see both that our agreement with Rwanda is lawful, proper and compliant with our international obligations, and that it is uncapped and potentially Rwanda could accommodate high numbers of people that we seek to relocate there. Rwanda has the capacity to resettle tens of thousands of people if necessary.
Critics of this Government’s plan to stop the boats would have more credibility if they offered up a plan of their own. Let us look at what the Opposition plan is. They would increase the funding to the National Crime Agency to disrupt trafficking upstream; never mind that the Government have already doubled the funding for the NCA precisely for that purpose. The Opposition say that they would go harder on the people smugglers; never mind that Labour voted against our Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which introduced life sentences for people smugglers. The Opposition speak about establishing a cross-channel taskforce; never mind that we have already set up a small boats operational command, with more than 700 new staff working hand in hand with the French.
The Opposition say that they would get a new agreement with the French; never mind that only last week our Prime Minister struck a historic multi-year deal with the French to increase the number of gendarmes patrolling the French beaches. The Opposition say that we should do more with partners around the world; never mind that the Government have returns agreements with Albania, Georgia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and Serbia. As for our world-leading agreement with Rwanda, we all know what the Opposition would do about that—they would scrap it.
The Opposition say that the Government cannot be trusted with our borders, but the fact is that the Leader of the Opposition and some 70-odd Labour MPs—a third of the parliamentary party—signed letters to stop dangerous foreign criminals being kicked out of Britain. Tragically, one of those criminals went on to kill another person in the UK—a shameful day for the Labour party. How easy it is for the Opposition to say, “Never mind the British public”, believing that they know better, arrogantly, dismissively. The truth is that they do not have a plan. What is even worse, they do not care that they do not have a plan. If they listened, they would hear a clear, reasonable and resounding message from the British people: we like controlled immigration, we welcome genuine refugees, but we do not want uncontrolled or illegal migration—enough is enough, stop the boats. That is the call from the British people—that is their cry for action to all of us who serve them in this place. This is a Government who listen—they listen to the people and, aided by this Bill, we will stop the boats.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
“this House, while affirming support for securing the UK’s borders, reforming the broken asylum system and ending dangerous small boat crossings, declines to give a Second Reading to the Illegal Migration Bill because the Bill fails to meet its core objectives, lacks any effective measures to tackle the criminal activity of people smuggler gangs, fails to eliminate the backlog of outstanding asylum cases, will increase the number of people in indefinite accommodation in the absence of return agreements, leaves victims of modern day slavery without any protections while frustrating efforts to prosecute traffickers, fails to reform resettlement schemes to prevent dangerous journeys and undermines international co-operation to provide support for those fleeing persecution and conflict.”
Most people want to see strong border security and a properly managed and controlled, fair and firm asylum and refugee system, so that we have proper grip along our borders and so that we do our bit, alongside other countries, to help those fleeing persecution and conflict. That is what Labour believes in but, right now, after 13 years of Conservative Government, we have none of those things. Our border security has been undermined because they let the criminal, smuggler and trafficking gangs rip, and the asylum system is in chaos, letting everyone down. All that they can offer is this Bill, which makes all those problems worse.
Last year, 45,000 people travelled on dangerous small boats, up from just 280 four years ago. That is criminal gangs, making £180 million a year from putting lives at risk, yet over the same period convictions of people smugglers have halved. There has been a massive increase in the gangs who are operating along the channel, and a massive drop in the number of criminals caught. The Government are still refusing to go after the gangs, and the deputy chair of the Conservative party thinks that we should not even bother.
I will give way to the hon. Member if he will now support our proposals for a cross-border police unit to go after the criminal gangs.
I actually have another question. Would the right hon. Member explain why the Leader of the Opposition, when he was a human rights lawyer, once said that there was an undertone of racism in all immigration law? Does he continue to believe that?
Immigration law is important, but the problem is that, at the moment, a huge amount of immigration law is not even enforced. There has been an 80% drop in the number of people who have been unsuccessful in the asylum system and been returned—an 80% drop since the Conservatives came to office. At the same time, our asylum system, under the Tories, is in total chaos. Only 1% of last year’s cases have had even an initial decision. Home Office decision making has been cut by 40%, the backlog has trebled in the space of just a few years, and thousands of people are in costly and inappropriate hotels.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. I am also grateful for the kind comments that she made about me in an interview at the weekend regarding modern slavery work. She has just referred to the backlog in asylum cases. If she thinks that the current figure means that the system is in chaos, what is her description of the system under the Labour Government of which she was a member, which had a backlog in asylum cases of between 400,000 and 450,000?
The former Prime Minister and former Home Secretary is experienced enough to know that that is not an accurate characterisation of what happened. By the time the Labour Government left office, the backlog of initial decisions was just a few thousand. Now it is 160,000, and in fact it has trebled in the past few years as a result of the complete failure of the Conservatives.
I will give way to the former Prime Minister; she and I have asked each other questions for so many years that I have to let her do so again.
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady, but does she not accept that, between the late 1990s and the early 2000s, when Labour was in government, the number of asylum cases that were in the legacy—the backlog—rose to between 400,000 and 450,000?
The important point that the former Prime Minister addresses is that in the late ’90s there was an issue about what had happened with the Bosnian refugee crisis and many others. In fact, it was the action that the last Labour Government took that got a grip of the system and addressed some of the challenges. We took action to make sure that we could have both border security and a system that provided for refugees and those in need of asylum. The former Home Secretary will also know, because she was responsible for introducing the modern slavery law, which I support, that the Bill rips up many of the provisions at the heart of that legislation. I hope that she and I would agree that it should be possible for our country to have strong border security, and to have strong, fast, and effective measures, which, at the moment, the Government do not have, to deal with asylum cases swiftly and speedily, but also to make provision for those who have fled persecution and conflict, and provide support for those who have been trafficked and those who are the victims of modern slavery. I hope that she agrees with me that the Bill does the total opposite.
Does my right hon. Friend, like me, get really annoyed when she hears Government Members talk about a Labour Government 13 years ago? Does she, like me, wonder why the Government, having been in charge continuously for 13 years, like to look all the way back, rather than address their own failures?
My hon. Friend is right that the Conservatives have to take responsibility for 13 years in government—13 years in which we have seen refugees left in limbo, even though they have fled persecution and conflict. Those who are not refugees and have no right to be here are never returned; there has been an 80% drop in returns of unsuccessful asylum seekers. At the same time, there has been a 40% drop in refugee family reunion visas, the Afghan resettlement scheme has been shamefully frozen and children are left with no way to rejoin family. Time and again, Ministers just want to blame someone else. All the Conservative Members just want to blame someone else, but they have been in charge for the last 13 years. They keep telling us the asylum system is broken—well, seriously, who broke it?
We need urgent action to stop the dangerous boat crossings that are putting lives at risk and undermining our border security. This Bill is a con that makes the chaos worse. It will not do the things the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have promised. It will not stop the criminal gangs or dangerous crossings; in fact, it makes it easier for those gangs. It will not return everyone; in fact, it makes it harder to get return agreements. It will not clear the asylum backlog; in fact, it will mean tens of thousands more people in asylum accommodation and hotels. It will not deliver controlled and managed safe alternatives; instead, it will cut them back.
The Bill will also rip up our long-standing commitment to international law. It will lock up children, remove support and safe refuges from women who have been trafficked, and deny citizenship to people like Mo Farah. The last law the Government passed on this subject, just nine months ago, made everything worse—dangerous crossings went up, delays went up—and now they seriously expect us to do all the same things again.
The UK was one of the instigators of the 1951 refugee convention, because before the war the UK Government failed to allow Jews fleeing the persecution of the Nazis into this country. The Board of Deputies of British Jews this week said:
“Today’s British Jewish community is descended from refugees… We have significant concerns at the potential for newly proposed migration legislation to breach…the Refugee Convention.”
Does my right hon. Friend agree that we could be in breach of the convention if we pass the Bill today—in breach of international law and our own legacy in this area?
My hon. Friend is right. Those are damning words that we have heard from the Board of Deputies and many other organisations on the impact this legislation will have.
At the heart of the Bill, there is a con. The Prime Minister has pledged that anyone who arrives in the UK without the right papers will be detained and swiftly removed, “no ifs, no buts”. But where to? Not to France, because the Prime Minister failed to get a returns agreement, and he has failed with other countries as well. The Bill makes it harder to get returns agreements, because it undermines compliance with the international laws and standards that those other countries are committed to upholding—standards that we used to be committed to upholding.
People will not be removed to Rwanda either; the Home Secretary has admitted already that that scheme is failing. The taxpayer has already written a £140 million cheque. The Home Office says it is unenforceable, with a high risk of fraud and no evidence of a deterrent effect. The Israel-Rwanda deal increased trafficking, rather than reducing it. At most, the Rwandan authorities say that they may take a couple of hundred people, but 45,000 people arrived last year.
The Immigration Minister shakes his head, but he said in a statement in December in this House that the initial promise was to receive 200 people and the further preparations had not been made.
I am pleased with the moderate way in which my right hon. Friend is putting forward a very sound argument, in absolute contrast to the rhetoric that we got from the Home Secretary, and she hits an important nail on the head: on the front page of the Bill, we have the statement of the Home Secretary that she cannot certify that the provisions of the Bill
“are compatible with the Convention rights”, yet in the schedule to the Bill, countries or territories to which a person may be removed include fellow signatories to the European convention on human rights. What legal advice has my right hon. Friend seen that we would be able to do that or that they will accept returns from the United Kingdom?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In order to have co-operation on return agreements, on alternative arrangements for processing or on any of those things, there must be proper standards in place, and other countries must respect those standards if they are to make agreements with us. Therefore, pulling away from the European convention on human rights makes those agreements more difficult, despite the fact that having those international agreements in place is one of the most important steps to dealing with the challenges we face.
I will give way to Caroline Lucas and then to Paul Holmes.
Does the right hon. Lady share my deep concern about the placeholder clause 49, which seeks to legislate to ignore ECHR interim orders lodged against this Government’s inhumane, morally abhorrent plans, to get around the fact that what the Government are doing is not compatible with our convention obligations? Does she agree that that will undermine our global standing and make it harder to make returns agreements or anything else that she describes?
I think it adds to the chaos within this piece of legislation that the Government have not worked out what they want to do. As a consequence, they are undermining our reputation as the kind of country that stands up for the rule of law and leads the way in expecting other countries to follow the law and to do their bit as well.
I give way to the hon. Member for Eastleigh, who has been patient. I will then make some progress before I take further interventions, because I am conscious of the time.
As is her right, the shadow Home Secretary is outlining her objection to this piece of legislation. She asked my hon. Friend Tom Hunt whether he would back her proposals, so could she do the House a favour and outline her proposals—or is this another example of her consistently opposing and not coming up with any fresh ideas herself?
Indeed, I am very happy to. I hope the hon. Member will support our proposal for a cross-border police unit to go after the criminal gangs and bring up those convictions, which have totally collapsed on the Conservatives’ watch. I hope too that he will support our proposals for a fast track for Albania and other safe countries, which Ministers are not doing. [Interruption.] This is interesting, because the Immigration Minister says, “Oh, we are already doing it,” except that they are not. Only 1% of the cases from Albania have been decided. The Home Office is not taking fast-track decisions on safe countries such as Albania, for all the promises the Government made. Even where they have the powers to take action, they are not doing it. I hope the hon. Member will also support our proposals to work on not just return agreements with France and other countries, but family reunion arrangements and reforms to resettlement schemes to make those work.
Instead, we have a Bill that is a con and that will make things worse. We have been clear that the Home Secretary has nowhere that she can say she is going to return people to. Last year, the Government made exactly the same promises when they said that 18,000 people would be inadmissible because they had travelled through safe countries, yet just 21 people were returned. Of those the Home Secretary said were inadmissible, just 21 were returned. Now she wants to say that everyone is inadmissible, but if she still manages to return just 0.1% of them, the reality is that she will have tens of thousands of people left. She is simply creating misinformation and conning those on her Back Benches, who have been cheering for the things she says but will see them unravel in practice.
The Home Secretary says this legislation means that she can return people to designated safe countries such as Albania, but she can do that already. She does not need this law to do that. She already has the power to fast-track Albanian and other cases. We have been calling for it for months, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees proposed it two years ago and the Prime Minister even promised it before Christmas, but it is not happening and 99% of those cases are still in limbo.
Just 15 people who had arrived in small boats were returned last month. That is the equivalent of 180 a year, when over 10,000 people came from the designated safe country of Albania. The real problem is that Conservative Home Office Ministers just do not have any grip on the system that they are supposed to be in charge of.
My focus goes back to clause 49, which looks specifically at interim measures of the Strasbourg court. We know that those measures have no actual effect in UK law, but UK courts may take them into account when passing their own judgments. Do the shadow Home Secretary and the Labour party support me in wanting to see that clause beefed up to make sure that the Home Secretary is under a statutory duty to remove unlawful migrants?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should have put that question to the Home Secretary, because he appears to disagree with his own Conservative Government’s policy and to be off on another bit of freelancing for himself, further undermining any possibility of getting international agreements, whether on returns or on anything else. He is planning to make it even harder to get the kinds of returns agreements we need and to get the kind of international co-operation we need as well.
Ministers say that they plan to lock everyone up before they are returned, and the Bill says that everyone is included. Children, unaccompanied teenagers, pregnant women, torture victims, trafficking victims, and people such as the Afghan interpreters and young Hongkongers we promised to help—all locked up because they arrive without the right papers. The Home Secretary has not said where, or how long for. It might possibly be at RAF Scampton, but the Tory right hon. Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) does not want that. It might possibly be at MDP Wethersfield, but the Tory right hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly)—the Home Secretary’s Cabinet colleague, the Foreign Secretary —does not want that either. In other circumstances, there might be pressure on the Home Secretary to put the site in her own constituency, except for the fact that she does not actually have one right now.
A responsible Opposition must have a plan. We all agree that we have to stop these boats, but the Opposition’s plan appears to be to process asylum applications even more quickly, so that more people will come; to process them in France, where an unlimited number will want to come; or to have this ridiculous idea of a cross-border police force. Everybody knows that on average, people get caught once on the beaches by the French police, they are not detained and they come back the very next night—they all get there. The right hon. Lady knows perfectly well that the only way that we are going to stop these boats is the Government plan: to detain them and deport them to Rwanda.
The right hon. Member is just kidding himself if he thinks that any of the Government’s plan is actually going to happen, or if he thinks it is actually going to work.
Clause 9 deals with what happens to all of the people who cannot be returned—the tens of thousands of people who, according to the Government, are expected to arrive after
As for the backlog the Prime Minister promised to clear, it is going to get worse, not better. Effectively, the Government have concluded that the Tory Home Office is so rubbish at taking any asylum decisions on time that they have decided to just stop doing them altogether, and they are hoping that no one will notice. Last week, I said that the Government might have decided not to call this an asylum system any more, but everyone is still going to be in the system nevertheless. Well, I got that wrong, because I have read the Bill’s explanatory notes again, and they say that:
“Subsection (2) amends section 94 of the 1999 Act…so that the term ‘asylum-seeker’ covers those whose asylum claims are inadmissible by virtue of Clause 4 of the Bill.”
In other words, the Government are amending the law so that all the people who they are going to exclude from the asylum system are still going to be called asylum seekers after all, and are still going to be in the asylum system.
You could not make it up: more chaos, more people in the asylum system, even fewer decisions taken, more people detained with nowhere to detain them and more people stuck in limbo, with no one credibly believing that anything in the Bill is going to act as any kind of deterrent to any of the criminal gangs. The Government are chasing headlines, but it is all a huge con.
What is the price of that con? What is the price of those empty headlines—of cancelling asylum decisions, rather than getting a grip? The Government are damaging our international standing, our chance of getting new co-operation agreements to tackle the problems, and our commitments to the rule of law. They are saying that Britain, uniquely, will not take asylum decisions, yet are expecting other countries to keep doing so. They are saying that Britain, uniquely, will not follow the refugee convention, the trafficking convention or the European convention on human rights, yet are urging other countries to follow those conventions. Think, too, of the price for the people we promised to help—for the Afghan interpreters who worked for our armed forces but who missed the last flight out of Kabul, and who the Government told to find an alternative route. If those people arrive in the UK now, the Conservatives plan to lock them up, keep them in limbo, and treat them as forever illegal in the country they made huge sacrifices to help.
Think of the Ukrainian family who travelled here via Ireland, as I know some people did in the early days of the conflict, without the right papers. They could have been the family staying with me, or the family staying with the Immigration Minister. I have listened to teenagers talking about how they had 20 minutes to pack before they fled their homes, not knowing whether they would ever return or see friends and family again. Under this law, those teenagers who arrived with the wrong papers would be locked up, denied any chance to ever live or work here lawfully in the future. That is the Tories’ position: in the interests of a plan that is actually a con and will not even work. It will not work to deter the criminal gangs; it will not work to remove people, because the Government do not have the returns agreements in place, and it will make it harder to get those returns agreements. In exchange for that con that makes nothing any better, they believe that no one who arrives in Britain without the right papers in their hands should ever be able to seek protection here or live here, no matter their personal circumstances.
I am most grateful to the right hon. Lady for giving way. Which parts of France are such that people need to flee from there to seek refuge in this country?
As the hon. Member knows, the majority of people who are seeking asylum and arrive in France stay in France, rather than seeking to travel to the UK. However, we believe that we should be seeking to get a returns agreement with France, alongside new arrangements on issues such as family reunion, but at the moment, the Government have so undermined their relationship with France and other European countries that they have totally failed to get any of those agreements in place, and they are making it harder to do so with this Bill. If the hon. Member believes that returns agreements are needed, or if he believes that new, alternative arrangements around family reunion or other issues are needed, he should oppose the Bill, because it will make it harder to get any of those agreements in place. The Bill is undermining the international co-operation and international law that all of those other countries depend on.
Consider what the Bill means for the young Vietnamese woman who has been trafficked into sexual exploitation, repeatedly raped and beaten by the criminal gangs who brought her here and who control and dictate her life. Under the Bill, if the police find her when they bust the brothel, she will not be able to get modern slavery support any more: she will not be able to go to a safe house or get help from the Salvation Army. Instead, she will just be locked up in one of the Home Office detention centres. If she co-operates with the police for a bit, she might get some temporary support, but if that police investigation is closed, her world comes crashing down again. Here is what the Prime Minister tweeted about all of that:
“If you come to the UK illegally…You can’t benefit from our modern slavery protections…you will be…DENIED access to the UK’s modern slavery system”.
Think on that. Bringing people into the UK illegally in order to control and exploit them is exactly what trafficking is. Cross-border trafficking is, by definition, a major form of modern slavery, yet this Government are proposing to just wish it away—to exclude it entirely from the modern slavery system, as if the very fact of crossing borders somehow stops it from being slavery at all. The message from the UK Government to the criminal trafficking and slavery gangs is this: “Don’t worry, so long as you bring people into the country illegally, we won’t help them. In fact, we will help you: we will threaten those people with immediate detention and deportation, so that you can increase your control over those trafficking victims.” This Bill is a traffickers’ charter.
The previous Prime Minister but three, Mrs May promised to end modern slavery, and I respect the work that she did, but this one—the current one—wants to enable it. How low has the Tory party fallen? It is even worse for children. This Bill allows the Home Secretary to lock them up indefinitely, with all safeguards removed. It allows her to remove unaccompanied children without even considering the details of their case and whether they have fled from persecution. Once they hit 18, the Bill requires her to remove them, even if the only family or support they have in the entire world is here in the UK, and even if they have been exploited and abused by criminal gangs. The Bill denies them any protection from modern slavery and makes them forever illegal in the UK.
Does the shadow Home Secretary share my concern that there was not pre-legislative consultation with the Children’s Commissioner? Why does she think that was the case?
My hon. Friend is right, and the Children’s Commissioner is appalled by some of the measures in the Bill and the lack of consultation, too. Remember those hundreds of children missing from asylum hotels, who have almost certainly been picked up by the smuggler and trafficking gangs? This Bill makes it even harder to get those kids back, and it makes it even easier for those gangs to increase their control. It means no sanctuary, or just temporary support at most for Eritrean girls, who will most likely have been raped or exploited, or for the 12 and 13-year-olds I met a few years ago, brought here by gangs from Afghanistan, or for children who endure what happened to Mo Farah. They would be denied refuge; they would be denied citizenship; they would be locked up and threatened with return. The Home Secretary may not want to admit it, but that is what this Bill does. It denies citizenship forever for people like Mo Farah.
The Tory party once voted to introduce safeguards on the detention of children, and it was right to do so. The Tory party once voted to introduce the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and it was right to do so, but what has happened to the Tories now? How low have they fallen and how far down are they trying to drag our proud country? That is what this Bill is: an attempt to drag our whole country down. They know that the Bill will not work to stop boat crossings or the gangs. They know it will not clear the backlog and that it will make the chaos worse. They know it will stop children and trafficked people getting help and will play into the hands of criminal gangs, and they know it will undermine our reputation in the eyes of the world as a country that believes in the rule of law, but they do not care, because this is about political games. This is about a lame Prime Minister making promises that he has no intention of keeping. All he wants is a dividing line, all he wants is to pick a fight, and all he wants is someone else to blame. He does not care if our international reputation or some very vulnerable people pay the price.
Will the right hon. Lady accept that many on the Government side of the House—me included—will vote for this Bill this evening, but with the clear understanding that we wish to see amendments to it as it progresses through Parliament, particularly in relation to women who are trafficked and to children? Our votes are being given in good faith tonight, in the expectation that the Bill can be amended. Does she accept that?
I do recognise that there are Members on the Government Benches who are deeply troubled by many of the measures in this Bill. I recognise that, and I think that reflects quite how far the Conservative party has fallen, and I am sorry that that has happened. This is an area where we should be able to build consensus, not division. In past eras, there has been consensus, for example on support for Syrian refugees. If we go back generations, there was consensus on support for the Kindertransport. There has been that support in place. We have also had past consensus about practical, sensible measures around border security, too.
It should be possible to build that consensus, and we would work with the Government to do that, but that is not what we are getting from the Conservative party, the Conservative Government, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary. Instead, we have a Home Secretary who is happy to ramp up the rhetoric, rather than ever to build a calm consensus around a practical plan that sorts things out. How desperate have things become if what they are doing is ramping up hostility and hatred towards the victims of trafficking and slavery? That is not leadership. Britain is better than this.
Labour will vote for action to stop the gangs and to prevent these dangerous boat crossings. We will vote for a new cross-border police unit, for fast-track decisions and returns to clear the backlog and end hotel use, and for new agreements with France and other countries on returns, on family reunions and on reforming resettlement. We will vote for action that rebuilds border security and restores a properly functioning, credible asylum and refugee system that is properly controlled. We will not vote, however, for more chaos. We will not vote for a traffickers’ charter that lets criminal gangs off the hook, that fails to tackle dangerous boat crossings and that locks up children and leaves some of the most vulnerable people undermined. We will not vote for this Bill tonight.
Order. Theresa May will get six minutes, then we are on to the Scottish National party spokesperson, and then there will be two others with six minutes. The speaking limit will then drop immediately to three minutes in order that we can get as many people in as possible.
Having been Home Secretary for six years I understand the pressures to deal with illegal migration. In my day, people were getting into the backs of lorries and the backs of cars of British tourists returning across the border at Calais. I did a deal with the French, and the numbers went down. I have to say that I suspect it is partly because of the success of that policy that we now see people coming in small boats. I welcome the new deal that has been done with France, because it will have an impact, but what should be clear from this situation is that whenever we close a route, the migrants and the people smugglers find another way. Anybody who thinks that this Bill will deal with illegal migration once and for all is wrong, not least because a significant number, if not the majority of people who are here illegally do not come on small boats; they come legally and overstay their visas.
As well as working to reduce illegal migration, I introduced the Modern Slavery Act 2015, as has been mentioned. That world-leading legislation dealt with traffickers and people who were being enslaved here in the United Kingdom, including British citizens, but it was never just a Bill about slavery in the UK, as we saw with the prosecution under that Act of a British woman for trafficking women from Nigeria to Germany.
I must say there has been some loose talk about people smuggling and human trafficking, and using the two terms in the same breath as if they are the same—they are not; they are two separate crimes. Someone paying their own money to be smuggled across the border is not a victim of human trafficking, which includes coercion and exploitation. Nobody wants to see our world-leading legislation being abused, but the Government have to set out the clear evidence if they are saying that there is a link between that Act and the small boats, and so far I have not seen that evidence. Remember, nearly 90% of modern slavery claims are found to be valid. That does not include recent applications, but that figure should give cause for concern.
I am concerned that the Government have acted on Albania and the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, when neither has been in place long enough to be able to assess their impact. I do not expect Government to introduce legislation to supersede legislation recently made, the impact of which is not yet known.
Beyond those issues, I have three main concerns with the Bill. The first is the blanket dismissal of anyone who is facing persecution and finds their way to the UK, but illegally. Examples have been given, but a young woman fleeing persecution in Iran, for example, would have the door to the UK shut in her face. The UK has always welcomed those who are fleeing persecution, regardless of whether they come through a safe and legal route. By definition, someone fleeing for their life will, more often than not, be unable to access a legal route. I do not think that it is enough to say that we will meet our requirements by sending people to claim asylum in Rwanda. That matters because of the reputation of the UK on the world stage, and because the UK’s ability to play a role internationally is based on our reputation—not because we are British, but because of what we stand for and what we do.
My second concern relates to the implications for modern slavery. I am grateful for the fact that No. 10 has offered to discuss that with me, and I hope that we can find some resolution, but as it stands, we are shutting the door on victims who are being trafficked into slavery here in the UK. If they had come here illegally, they would not be supported to escape their slavery.
The Home Office itself recognises the damage that the Bill would do, stating in the explanatory notes to clauses 21 to 28, on public order disqualification:
“These provisions are subject to a sunsetting mechanism so that they can be suspended should the current exceptional illegal migration situation no longer apply”— in other words: “We know this isn’t ideal, but we’ve got lots of people coming illegally; we’ve got to do something, so the victims of modern slavery will be collateral damage.” I welcome the acknowledgment that this part of the Bill could be reversed, but it could also then be reinstated. The Home Office knows that the Bill means that genuine victims of modern slavery will be denied support.
My third concern is one that has been echoed by other former Home Secretaries of both major parties—namely, whether the policy will work. For it to work, a number of things have to fall into place. There has to be no possibility of successful legal challenge. It requires the provision of extra detention capabilities and the assurance that no one will be able to abscond. It requires the individual legal cases relating to deportation to Rwanda to be resolved in the Government’s favour. It requires Rwanda to process more than the fewer than 250 asylum claims that it currently processes every year, and to provide accommodation for and accept the many thousands of extra people. It requires returns agreements on returns with countries around the world, and the ability to ensure those returns.
Dealing with immigration is never easy. There is never a simple answer to any problem, and it is never possible to take one’s eye off the ball. It requires constant vigilance and also international co-operation.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for mentioning human trafficking. I conducted a Court of Appeal case on an unduly lenient sentence, and we got the sentence increased. It is vital that everybody understands the difference between human trafficking and people smuggling. If we do not get such basic terms right, how on earth will we get the policy right?
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend for his work and his recognition of the difference between people smuggling and human trafficking. It is imperative that we use careful language in relation to these issues, and that we recognise that the Bill removes support from the victims of trafficking and modern slavery.
I know that the Government are working hard to find a solution to the problem of the small boats, but I think that a number of point shed doubt on the approach that is being taken. I look forward to working with them on this issue to ensure that we can deal with the problem of dangerous sea crossings and save people’s lives while maintaining our reputation as a country that welcomes people fleeing persecution and, crucially, our reputation as a world leader in dealing with modern slavery.
This refugee ban Bill is nothing but an abhorrent dog whistle, and my colleagues and I on the SNP Benches do not support it. We do support, however, the refugee convention, the European convention on human rights and the Human Rights Act 1998, and a functioning and fair immigration system, which is a million miles away from what we have just now.
A mosaic based on a Norman Rockwell painting hangs at the United Nations. It features the faces of people of all backgrounds and is inscribed with the caption:
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
It is called “the golden rule”. Britain fails completely and utterly in the application of that golden rule.
I ask hon. Members and everyone listening to close their eyes. Place yourself in the shoes of a person so terrified that they must flee for their lives—a person of faith who finds themself in the wrong country, perhaps; or a woman activist facing repression in Iran; a mother desperate to protect her daughter from female genital mutilation; a boy hiding after seeing his family murdered, and facing forcible recruitment or death. You leave the world you know, travelling across mountain and desert, in trucks and cars, or on feet bleeding and sore. You face setbacks, abuse and exploitation, and use every resource you have.
Finally, you step into a flimsy dinghy, because it is the only way to cross the English channel to get to the uncle who you know lives in the UK. He is your only family member who is still alive. There is no other route. When you arrive—so close to him—what happens? You are seized, imprisoned, not permitted access to a lawyer or given the chance to plead your case. You are whisked away from sanctuary so close that you can almost touch it. This Tory Government are prepared to ignore the plight of that persecuted person of faith, those women, that child, and so many others in circumstances such as theirs. Those people will have no chance of ever finding sanctuary in the UK. The door will be closed permanently. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The Bill is being rushed through with no proper impact assessment, on the back of legislation that is barely even in place—barely even cold—brought in last year. The Home Secretary clearly declares on the front page of this Bill:
“I am unable to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Illegal Migration Bill are compatible with the Convention rights, but the Government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill.”
This is the illegal Illegal Migration Bill. It is not legal, not just, and not compatible with the Human Rights Act 1998, which gives effect to the European convention on human rights.
As much as the Government would have us believe it, the ECHR is not a Eurocratic creation but a system championed by Winston Churchill. One of its key drafters was David Maxwell Fyfe, a former Conservative Home Secretary and one of the prosecutors at Nuremburg. The Bill is bang on form for a UK Government who have previously sought to break international law in “specific and limited ways”, but it is even more dangerous than that. The Bill undermines the fundamental international obligations that the Government’s predecessors established under the 1951 refugee convention following the horrors of world war two. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has condemned the Bill, stating:
“The legislation, if passed, would amount to an asylum ban—extinguishing the right to seek refugee protection in the United Kingdom for those who arrive irregularly, no matter how genuine and compelling their claim may be, and with no consideration of their individual circumstances.”
I am sure that we have all been inundated with briefings and contacts from constituents and organisations on this despicable piece of legislation. I will try my best to reflect the many concerns that have been raised with me. Overwhelmingly, I thank the constituents of Glasgow Central, who—as one would expect from the city that gave us the Glasgow Girls, the Glasgow Grannies and the neighbourhood solidarity of Kenmure Street—are resolutely opposed to this cruel Bill.
The Bill is unfair in many respects, but particularly in having retrospective effect. Parliament has only just begun the process of debating this hideous legislation, yet it will impact on people who arrived from
The provisions affecting children are among the more disturbing parts of a very bad piece of legislation. Clause 3(2) states:
“The Secretary of State may make arrangements for the removal of a person from the United Kingdom at a time when the person is an unaccompanied child.”
An unaccompanied child. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson has stated his clear opposition to this Bill. He said:
“The UK is required to ensure that children seeking refugee status receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance, under Article 22 of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UNCRC also requires the UK to ensure that children are protected from exploitation and abuse, and afforded support for recovery. This Bill violates those obligations and many others. Its enactment would place the UK in clear breach of its international law obligations under a range of human rights treaties.”
The Bill reaches into Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Clauses 15 to 18 seize powers and undermine the clear protections that Scotland’s devolved institutions have established to protect all our weans.
Barnardo’s has rightly queried why the Bill gives the Home Office the power to accommodate children when hundreds of children are currently missing from Home Office accommodation and unaccounted for. It also wants to know whether an unaccompanied child who has arrived in the UK irregularly will be routinely placed into specialist foster care as a matter of policy or whether they will be eligible for adoption. If two siblings are trafficked into the UK when one is 12 and the other is 18, will both be detained and removed from the UK and denied any protection? If an unaccompanied child is trafficked into the UK and granted protection through the national referral mechanism, and a family member who they may not even have met arrives in the UK irregularly at a later point, will that disqualify the child from modern slavery protection? This whole area is deeply problematic, and even more so as the Bill allows for removal as soon as an unaccompanied child turns 18.
It is clear that the inadmissibility rules in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 do not work. Expanding inadmissibility creates a situation where there is no right of appeal: “Do not pass Go. Do not collect a meagre £8 a week in an overcrowded hotel. Go directly to immigration jail and await removal.” There are some very tight grounds for a technical appeal, but the potential for people to be removed to places where they will be at risk of persecution is real. I would love to know how the Home Secretary will know the details of a person’s claim if it is not going to be fully assessed.
The Bill talks in clause 6 about the potential for a person to be at risk of persecution due to their sex, their language, their race, their religion, their nationality, their membership of a social or other group, their political opinion or
“any other attribute or circumstance that the Secretary of State thinks appropriate.”
Yet if there is no application, declaration or assessment, no ability to seek legal advice, and a presumption of inadmissibility, how will she know?
The former Prime Minister, Mrs May, who I often disagreed with when she was Home Secretary and Prime Minister, is correct to be concerned about many of the mechanisms in the Bill. It is beyond all logic and reason that the Home Secretary should rip up these important protections. The Bill will also override the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015, against our will.
The Immigration Law Practitioners Association says that clauses 21 to 28, concerning modern slavery and trafficking, clearly breach the UK’s obligations to victims of trafficking under article 4 of the ECHR and the European convention on action against trafficking. The provisions will deprive victims of their right to recovery, expose them to re-exploitation and facilitate the work of trafficking gangs. I have met people who have been supported through TARA—the Trafficking Awareness Raising Alliance—in Glasgow, and I have seen how damaged some of them have been. It breaks my heart to think that this Government would lock them up and give them no support whatsoever.
Amnesty International has stated that the Bill creates a “charter for human exploitation”, placing many of the most marginalised people firmly in the hands of human traffickers, modern-day slavers and other abusers. The Bill widens the power imbalance between those being abused and their abusers, and it makes it far more difficult for people ever to break free. In so doing, they would risk being removed from the UK permanently, and you can bet that their abusers will use that threat over them. Why on earth would the Home Secretary consider this a sensible idea?
The clauses on entry into and settlement in the United Kingdom are brutal. There is no entry and no chance of settlement, permanently—forever. A person can never enter the UK if they once met the four conditions the Home Secretary is setting for illegal entry, or if they are a family member of that person. Talk about holding the child accountable for the sins of the father. I understand that that applies even if the child was born here. That will surely have the wider impact of hitting people well into the future who may wish to come as tourists, to work or to study. They may have no knowledge of the previous banning order. Why would the Home Secretary wish to deny them that opportunity? What message does she thinks this pulling up of the drawbridge sends out to the world?
Clause 51 outlines the capping of safe and legal routes. These proposed routes are to be brought forward in regulations. The Home Secretary is dangling a carrot that that may happen at some point in the future—maybe, perhaps, in the fullness of time, when parliamentary time allows. Aye, right. We need those safe and legal routes now. They are part of the solution to the small boats crisis. People who come by that route do so because there is no other option. People cannot claim asylum from abroad; they literally need to place their feet on this island. It is not by some coincidence that there are no Ukrainians paying people to come by dinghy; they can get on a plane from Poland and fly to the UK without the risk of being returned there. It is cheaper. It is safer. It is humane.
The Glasgow solicitors firm McGlashan MacKay mentioned that it was dealing with some people from El Salvador, for which there was a visa waiver scheme, so those people could get here safely. The Home Office shut it down.
Afghans do not have the privilege of getting on a plane and coming here. Just 22 people, including eight children, have been resettled in the UK under the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme, via referral from the UNHCR. Pathway 2 is the only route open for resettlement for Afghans who are not already in the UK.
The hon. Lady mentions safe and legal routes. I am very keen that we need greater definition in the Bill, and I am also keen that we need greater safeguards for vulnerable children. Like the shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, the hon. Lady has focused exclusively on extreme cases of people who may fall foul of the Bill, and that is why we need those additional criteria. However—again, just like the shadow Home Secretary—the hon. Lady has made no mention of people who come across the channel who are not genuine asylum seekers and have no genuine, credible claim to come to the United Kingdom. She seems to assume that everybody coming across the channel is one of those vulnerable people. They are not, so what would she do about those people genuinely abusing our hospitality?
The hon. Gentleman knows that the vast majority of people who come over are accepted as asylum seekers and get their refugee status. He also knows that without those safe and legal routes, the question that he asked the Home Secretary at the Home Affairs Committee remains unanswered. Under the Bill, the Home Secretary will not even ask to find out whether these people are genuine; everybody is deemed to be some kind of fake.
Returning to the Afghan scheme, which does not work, I spoke on Friday to my constituent Zakia, who has been trying to reunite with her sister since the fall of Afghanistan. Her sister has had the Taliban enter her home and beat her. She has played by the rules—as the Home Secretary set out and says that people should—and she has made an expression of interest, yet still nothing. If the Home Secretary was in that woman’s shoes, would she really sit tight in Afghanistan and wait for the Taliban to murder her? Because that is what happens to women in Afghanistan. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Capping safe and legal routes—routes that do not even exist right now—would suggest that if you are person x+1, well that is just too bad for you. It is not based on need. A few years ago, I was made aware that the visitor visa scheme for Iranians was essentially being run as a lottery, with the names being drawn of lucky winners. This Government could not run a raffle, and I do not trust them to establish this scheme in a timely or fair manner.
If the hon. Gentleman would like to give me some experience from his constituents of how difficult it is to come from Afghanistan, I would be glad to hear it.
The hon. Lady is speaking of safe and legal routes. Given that there are more than 100 million displaced people globally, I wonder whether she will be kind enough to confirm how many of those people an independent Scotland would take, what tax rises she would make to fund their public services, and how many additional people she is willing to accept in central Glasgow.
If the hon. Gentleman knew anything at all, he would know that my Glasgow Central constituency has the highest immigration case load of any constituency in Scotland, and we are proud that that is so. I would like to know how many are being housed in his constituency. I will say, too, that Scotland has taken the highest proportion of Ukrainian refugees and the highest proportion of Syrian refugees. We have a proud history in Scotland, and we would do much, much better than this pathetic excuse for a Government.
Let me turn to the practicalities of the Bill. There is no proof that it will work any more than the Nationality and Borders Act or the hostile environment worked. We were told at the time that those things were the solution to the problems that we had, but they have evidently failed, because the Government are back here legislating again.
There is no return agreement with the EU or anywhere else. Ironically for the Brexiteers on the Conservative Benches, leaving the EU has made this much more difficult. The Bill lists European economic area countries and Albania, but a deal does not exist. There are already countries around the world where the UK Government will not return people, and others where there are no flights and no means of return. The Bill will create an underclass of people stuck in immigration limbo indefinitely.
The Bill will detain everybody arriving in a small boat for 28 days. The UK’s current detention capacity is 2,286 beds. The number of people crossing in small boats last year was 45,755. For context, the prison population in England and Wales in 2022 was just over 81,000 people.
Where on earth does the Home Secretary suggest that the number of people she wishes to detain are kept, as well as those who are deemed inadmissible but unreturnable? Will they be in facilities such as Manston, with children sleeping on the floor; in dilapidated and crumbling facilities such as Napier barracks, where covid and scabies were rife; or in hotels, which is lining the pockets of companies such as Serco and Mears but costing the Government a fortune and putting vulnerable asylum seekers at risk, such as those being housed in Erskine in Scotland, where they are being targeted by far-right groups?
My hon. Friend is indeed right. The Erskine Bridge hotel is potentially the largest such hotel in the UK, and we have another hotel in Renfrewshire, unlike Richard Graham. This Government and Conservative Members assert that Scotland does not play its part, but that is clearly not the case. Meanwhile, Patriotic Alternative, the neo-fascist group, is blaming the SNP for these hotels being used in the first place, leading to security threats against my staff. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that any Conservative Members who support anything Patriotic Alternative has said should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiments. We should all be very worried about the rise of these groups and how they are being fed by the rhetoric of leaders and MPs across the way. [Interruption.] Conservative Members are laughing over there at the suggestion. It is terrifying, and it is scary. People will get hurt, and they should know much better.
Perhaps if the Home Secretary cannot fit people into more asylum hotels or shabby barracks, she will place those who have survived war and persecution on the streets and just let them wander the streets, because they will not be allowed to do anything else. The Home Secretary seems to envisage this as some kind of deterrent, but she fails completely to recognise the reasons why people flee, and the ties of family and English language that people have. Afghan interpreters have said to me, “We’re here, because you were there.” As Enver Solomon, chief executive officer of the Refugee Council has said:
“The plans won’t stop the crossings but will simply leave traumatised people locked up in a state of misery being treated as criminals and suspected terrorists without a fair hearing on our soil.”
All of this comes at a financial cost, as well as a humanitarian one, and we would have imagined that the Conservatives at least cared about that. This includes about £6 million per day on hotels—including for one of my constituents who contacted me today, who has been in a B&B for 20 months waiting on a decision from the Home Office—which is exacerbated all the way by the Home Office incompetence that I see, week in and week out, at my surgeries. It includes £12.7 million to compensate the 572 people the Home Office detained unlawfully last year, at least £120 million on the failed Rwanda deal, and £480 million to France over the next three years on top of the £250 million already given since 2014. The Refugee Council estimates that it will cost in the region of £980 million to detain people under the scheme proposed in the Bill. It is chucking good money after bad policy, and it is sickening that it costs so much to treat our fellow human beings so badly.
My constituent Patricia put it to me so clearly on Saturday. She said:
“I am not ‘asylum’, I have a name, I’m a human being and every human being has a right”.
People do not need to be an exceptional athlete like Mo Farah, the chief executive of the Scottish Refugee Council like Sabir Zazai, a councillor like Roza Salih or Abdul Bostani, or even an Oscar-winning actor like Ke Huy Quan. Refugees are entitled to the right to lead an unremarkable life in peace and safety, to get an education and to provide for their family. It is not asking too much; it is the least anyone could expect. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
The SNP wholeheartedly and unequivocally condemns this cruel, shoddy, tawdry Bill. We urge the Government to scrap it, to focus instead on tackling the asylum backlog that leaves so many of our constituents in a costly and damaging limbo, and to lift the ban and let refugees work and contribute, as they so wish to do. It has been telling that the Labour party has been so weak in its opposition to this Bill as to be played off the park by football pundits, commentators and actresses such as Cate Blanchett. My credit to the principled stance taken by Gary Lineker and his colleagues in thoroughly Kenmuring the BBC, and I bet if he had tweeted in favour of the Bill, he would not have faced the red-card worthy simulation of outrage from the Tory Benches. It seems that if you are a Tory donor, you can run the BBC, but if you oppose this pathetic excuse for a Government, they do not want you to work there.
Scotland stands against this Bill. We would not have such cruel provisions in an independent Scotland. We wish to be known for our kindness, our hospitality and our compassion, not our hard-heartedness and our cruelty. We would do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!
Order. There is a six-minute limit on the next two speakers, and then the limit will be three minutes.
As I listen to this debate I, frankly, get more and more depressed. What we hear is an artificial juxtaposition between an open-door policy of letting everybody into this country and a suggestion that we on this side of the House are cruel and callous and do not care about people. Can I deal with that second point? It is utterly, utterly wrong. As Justice Secretary, I worked very hard to make sure that the Nationality and Borders Act could make its way through this House, and I yield to nobody in my determination to make sure that those who seek to exploit others and to profit on the back of people who are vulnerable, and who are clearly not asylum seekers but economic migrants, must be dealt with. I think this party should make no apology for wanting to make sure that that issue is addressed fair and square. That is what the people who put us here expect us to do, and that is what our constituents want us to do.
What our constituents are fed up about is the seeming inability of the system to enforce the laws we pass in this place, to get on with the job of lawful deportation and to make sure that people who overstay their visas do not stay here. As my right hon. Friend Mrs May said, the main cause of unlawful migration is the overstaying of visas. That is not to minimise the small boats issue, but it is to put it into context. The small boats crisis, as we describe it, is actually the product of the successful approach we took to the control of lorries and the appalling incidents we saw in which many people lost their lives as a result of suffocation and other horrors. As a result, we plugged that loophole, and I am pretty sure that if we succeed in plugging this loophole, another one will emerge.
From all the evidence I know from asylum seekers I speak to in my constituency, and I do so regularly, this is a price-driven market. It is simply cheaper to come in on small boats than it is to come here by other means at the moment, and herein lies the source of the problem. The Government are seeking once again to use law where I believe it is primarily operations that matter more than anything, particularly the ability of this country to strike sensible agreements—not just with France, but with other members of the European Union—to have a managed system of return. Frankly, a quota system would make eminent sense in dealing with what is an international problem. We came together on Ukraine. Why on earth can we not come together on this?
That would make sense of clause 51, and the Government’s wish to have a debate in this House on a cap or a quota. I think that is a sensible measure, but it will only work if we extend safe routes of passage in a controlled and measured way. We have to do more on safe and legal routes. In fact, doing that would strengthen the Government’s case against those people who are choosing small boats. It is as plain as a pikestaff to me. However, that must happen in tandem with this legislation. It is no good passing this legislation unless we do those other operational things.
To deal with a particular clause, perhaps not in Second Reading tradition, I have great concern about clause 3 on the detention of children. I note that this is a power, not a duty. When powers are put into Bills, it is usually because policy makers have not actually decided what to do and whether to use them. It is a holding mechanism in order for the Government to make a decision. My strong suggestion to them, when we come to amend the Bill, is to ditch that clause and look carefully at the way we deal with unaccompanied children, families and women. There is nothing worse than ineffective authoritarianism and that is the danger of such provisions.
Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that, if the Government were to look at proposed new section 8AA(4)(b) in clause 29, and particularly the phrase “compelling” evidence, and to bring forward criteria that defined compelling evidence, that might reassure a number of us on the Conservative Benches that the Bill would not prevent illegal sex trafficked young women from seeking provision and protection under the Modern Slavery Act 2015?
My hon. Friend is right. It is going to be vital that there is clear guidance. We have been here before. When it comes to modern day slavery, there has been a question about the interpretation of guidance. I know it is a vexed question for the Government, that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration is assiduous in these matters and that he will want to get it right, but we will have an opportunity in Committee and on Report to do so. The Bill as presented is not yet in the state that it needs to be in if it is to have the effect that I think the Government want it to have.
On the interaction between the Bill and the European convention on human rights, I hope that the Bill is not being used as some sort of battering ram to make a wider political point about the validity of the European convention. The European convention is not the problem in this case and those who think it is are setting up a massive Aunt Sally when it comes to the actual issues. Whether we are in the convention or not, domestic law, our rule of law tradition and the procedures we have under various immigration Acts—some of which I was involved in passing through this House—will inevitably impose principles of natural justice on any process. The idea that, through a blanket approach, we will engineer a battle with the courts and a battle with the European convention is misconceived and a journey on which I urge the Government not to embark.
There is no need to talk about withdrawal from the convention that British Conservatives wrote. What we need to focus on relentlessly, in dealing in a grown-up and mature way with a serious situation such as this, is ensuring that, internationally, our reputation as reasonable actors and people with whom other countries can do business, and as a place where people will want to invest, is enhanced by our approach to these issues. That is why the tone of this debate is so important. I am concerned that, in some of the utterances I hear from my party, that tone is not appropriate. We have to do better. We have to rise to the level of events. We have to get it right.
To follow up on that point about the issue of tone, despite the strong views held about this Bill both in this House and outside by actors, football commentators and archbishops, I believe there is consensus that we all want to stop people crossing the channel in unsafe, small boats, and risking their lives in some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The Government’s flagship immigration Bill underpins one of the Prime Minister’s five priorities to the British people. It is so important. That is why I asked the Leader of the House whether the Home Affairs Committees could carry out pre-legislative scrutiny to test the robustness and evidence supporting the Bill. Sadly, that has not been possible. It is also disappointing that we have not had an impact assessment —an equality impact assessment, or a child rights impact assessment—accompanying the publication of the Bill.
I also hope there is consensus across the House that the UK should do its bit to support those fleeing persecution and torture, sharing that responsibility with our international partners. We need to put this into context. Not every displaced person in the world wants to come to the United Kingdom and we are not facing an invasion. We know that countries such as Turkey take the lion’s share of refugees and nearly 70% of refugees end up staying in the region they come from.
So what exactly should the Government be doing about small boats? Last summer, the Home Affairs Committee published our report into channel crossings. We made the important point in the report that no one magic bullet will solve the problem. As I made clear last week, the Home Secretary is right that our asylum system is broken, but it is not the migrants crossing the channel who broke it. Poor resourcing, antiquated IT systems, high staff turnover, or too few staff have resulted in this backlog of 160,000 cases. Tackling the backlog has to be the most important priority for the Home Office.
Another key message from our report was the need for detailed, evidence-driven, fully costed and fully tested policy to tackle this problem, rather than simple headline-grabbing announcements on Rwanda, for which there is still no body of evidence regarding the potential deterrent effect. Other recommendations included the importance of establishing a returns agreement with the European Union, extending family reunion, and creating safe and legal routes. We all know that people may travel without papers using irregular methods, but have a solid case for seeking asylum that needs to be considered under our international obligations. The Bill currently would deny that opportunity.
Positively, at the end of last week, we saw further agreement with the French on tackling small boats, albeit we still need that returns agreement with the EU. Although it is encouraging that the Government are improving their relationship with the EU, we now find them stress testing our international obligations and potentially breaking international law.
On the Bill’s specifics, its proposals present a huge logistical challenge for a Department that is not known for good project management or for being on the front foot. It has three essential pillars: detention, deportation and deterrence. Each raises serious and fundamental practical issues to which we need clear answers in order to understand how the Bill will work.
The Institute for Government has helpfully summarised the key questions. First, does the Bill adhere to the UK’s international obligations? Secondly, how does it change existing policy on inadmissible claims? Thirdly, where can the Government send asylum seekers who are deemed inadmissible? Fourthly, what does the Home Secretary consider to be a “reasonable prospect of removal”? Fifthly, what will happen to people who the Government cannot remove to another country? Sixthly, how will the Government accommodate people they have detained and how will they pay to do so? Seventhly, will the Bill deter people from crossing the channel in small boats?
I have many concerns, particularly on the provisions relating to unaccompanied children, children and families being detained, and victims of trafficking and modern slavery. The Salvation Army stated in its briefing on the Bill that modern slavery is not an immigration issue; it is a safeguarding issue. The men, women and children trafficked against their will to the UK and enslaved should not be punished for being victims, but that is what the Bill will do.
On deterrence, during the Select Committee’s visit to France earlier this year, we heard evidence that people who have arrived in northern France, having travelled thousands of miles in some cases, will not be put off when they can see the British coastline from the French beach, and have little or no knowledge of Home Office policy or British laws. Therefore, we need fully to understand how the plan for detention, deportation and deterrence will work in practical terms. I am concerned that the Bill potentially leaves the Home Office in a legal quagmire, with up to tens of thousands of people detained for a period and then bailed into a permanent state of limbo, unable to be removed, unable to have their asylum claims processed and unable to reunite with families. There is nothing specifically in the Bill about tackling criminal gangs, people smugglers and traffickers. To conclude, we all want action on small boats, but we want effective action that will deal with the problem.
Countries mean more than their borders. National character, shared heritage and the institutions that give that history life matter. But borders matter too, for they are what mark the territory that defines citizenship, with its implicit entitlements, responsibilities, opportunities and duties, and the plain fact is that our kingdom’s borders are being breached day after day with impunity. Since 2018, some 85,000 people have entered Britain illegally, 45,000 of them in 2022 alone. Seventy-four per cent. are men under 40 and 100% have travelled through safe countries, where they failed to claim asylum, to get here. Accommodating them is costing the British taxpayer every single day £6 million. It cannot go on.
Of course, Britain should provide a safe haven for people in fear—in genuine need—but it is a deceit to pretend that the asylum system has not been gamed and the British people taken for a ride by economic migrants with no legal right to be here, enabled by fat cat law firms that have grown rich on the proceeds, aided and abetted by militant interest groups that are determined to subvert the will of the people and cheered on by vacuous self-indulgent celebrities leading millionaire lifestyles. It may be uncomfortable for the bourgeois liberal establishment, but polls show that the British people want tough action on illegal immigration. Indeed, polling last week showed that people support the principles of the Bill.
Benjamin Disraeli said that justice is truth in action. Today, the Government are giving voice to the true wish of the British people to restore justice to our immigration and asylum system. It is not extreme to want to cap all kinds of immigration; it is not immoderate to deport illegal immigrants; and it is not unreasonable to give the Government the tools they need to do just that. It is time to take back control of our borders. It is time to stop the boats.
I have to say that Sir John Hayes makes a very unlikely class warrior. I would also like to say that my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper gave her usual forensic analysis of the situation and I am very grateful to her for doing that. I agree with the Home Secretary on one thing: her comment that we should choose our words carefully. It is just a pity she did not do so herself.
The reason I wanted to speak in this debate is that, as you are aware, Mr Speaker, there is a hotel in Knowsley with 180-plus asylum seekers. I will not talk about that in detail because I had an urgent question on it a few weeks ago, but I will say that, since then, the situation has deteriorated to the extent that some of the refugees have been verbally abused in the street and others have been assaulted. They fled because the countries they come from were unsafe, only to find themselves in an unsafe position in this country. I think we should all be ashamed about that. It is not just happening in Knowsley; it is happening all over the country.
I want to conclude by saying something about why the Bill is before us in the House. The shadow Home Secretary convincingly pointed out the failures in the system that have led to this, but why are the Government bringing forward a Bill that anybody who knows anything about it knows is not going to work? The answer is that, with some notable exceptions—Mrs May and Caroline Nokes, to name but two—broadly speaking, those on the Conservative Benches split into two groups. The first group are deluded and actually believe this is going to work. The second group are cynical, do not believe it is going to work, but are going along with it anyway. That is a shameful set of circumstances. At least those who are deluded will wake up tomorrow morning and think, “We are still right.” Those who are cynical will wake up tomorrow morning and have to look at themselves in the mirror—and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Many in this House want to say that the Government are inciting people’s worst instincts on immigration. I want to say optimistically that, ultimately, it is not the Bill, the Home Secretary or the Government who are causing that feeling. In fact, they are in touch with the widespread symptoms of it from people—decent people—in constituencies like mine up and down the country, and we have to heed those views. In my judgment, enough of the fine people of Skegness say, accurately, that they are already doing a huge amount. They say that asking them to do even more has untold consequences. They say, in short, that endless numbers cannot be made to feel welcome if they worry that the town they are staying in will never be the same again, in part because of it.
When enough people feel that way, we mainstream moderates in this House have to act, because if we do not, we should know that it is the racists and the extremists of the far left and the far right who will take our place. We have already seen Patriotic Alternative march in Skegness. If, however, we act now, there is a chance to stop decent British people withdrawing their consent. That is why the aims of the Bill are not just compassionate; they are the only compassionate option. They are the most compassionate way: breaking the business model of both the people smugglers and those who buy hotels to sell back to the Home Office at profiteers’ rates. All that has to end.
I want to end by saying that we do need to have safe routes from dangerous countries and we do need to have provisions for men and women who are trafficked, and for children who are taken by irresponsible adults to these shores, but we must not use those hard cases to pretend that we cannot do better than where we are today. If we do not, compassion will cede the ground to ignorance and hatred. We have to act, or we will stretch the licence that voters give us to act on their behalf beyond breaking point. In Skegness, I am not exaggerating when I say that for some, this is an issue about democracy and the effectiveness of government itself. The Bill is not just about stopping the boats; it is about stopping that democratic tragedy. That is just one reason why I will be proud to support the Bill this evening.
The words of Matt Warman must have some meaning for him. They do not for anybody else in this debate, because they do not make any sense or bring any delivery for the people we represent.
This country is based on the rule of law. We are in the UN Security Council. We wrote the European convention on human rights. We were the main principals behind the Geneva convention. We penned the war crimes legislation that is now in existence. People here are being accused of being lefty lawyers for doing the right thing and standing up for people and for our rights which are enshrined in law. We have always worked to the letter of the law, and so we should.
The Home Secretary takes no advice from the Bar Council and no advice from the Law Society, which both say that the Bill will create contradictions and will have problems in the courts, just like those the Government have already had. The Government do not want to do anything about that, and that is a problem. There are no safe routes for anybody to come through. Afghanistan has been closed. Hong Kong has been closed.
The Minister shakes his head. If he tried getting out of Afghanistan, he would see what the issues are.
Women who have been trafficked will have no support under the Bill. Young children in jeopardy will have no support under the Bill. The Bill is against the people, and against the human rights and civil liberties of people. The Labour party does not say there is an open and a free door. That is what the Tories say about the Labour party. The Labour party is here to look at open and positive immigration. That is what we want to do.
The Home Secretary said that she cannot be xenophobic or racist just because of her colour and origins. I say to her, being of the same colour and origin, that that is exactly what her politics are about—dividing our society and our community based on that. That is what she continues to do. The best thing that she can do is to look at what is right for the people, rather than making political decisions that she thinks will win her the next election. That is not the case. The people of the United Kingdom are not so naive as to allow this huge nonsense of xenophobia and racism from her party. She needs the knock of humanity to move forward with these issues.
We are all here representing all of our constituents—the Home Secretary does not understand that. For her sake and for the sake of all the people who come here, I hope that we are responsible for human beings and show humanity moving forward.
I echo the words of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland in saying that we need some calm and seriousness in this debate. Tone is important, even if it has sometimes been lacking. In that spirit, we should observe that it is not unlawful or illegitimate, when faced with novel developments in the means of unlawful entry into the United Kingdom, to test the legal position. That is what the Bill does, and no more at this stage. It is legitimate to do that.
I support the international convention on refugees, but we have to recognise that it was conceived in 1951, at a time when people were smuggled across borders, and there was perhaps a little bribery of local officials or some altruistic assistance for people to get over borders. That was before the time of organised criminality exploiting vulnerable people. We have to reflect the reality of that change in circumstance. The Government are entitled to look at how that might best be done. That is a case for judicial dialogue in Strasbourg, and for renegotiating some of the international treaties.
That said, some of us are able to support the Bill only because of the safeguards written into it, such as habeas corpus.
Does my hon. Friend accept that a number of Conservative Members support the Bill tonight on the basis that when it gets to Committee and Report stage, the Government will confirm in more detail the legal basis of the statement that it complies with our international obligations?
I have great faith in the legal input of the Attorney General and the advice of senior Treasury counsel on the Bill. My hon. Friend is right about that. Some of us will look to improve the protections for children and families and some of the tests, such as the suspensive serious harm test and the compelling circumstances under new subsection (4)(b) in clause 29. Were it not for things such as that, it would be very difficult to support the Bill, but they are in there and we need to build on them.
I want to make it clear that legislation itself is not a solution. Left on its own, the Bill will not achieve anything, and nor will any other Bill. The real need is to operationalise the situation and to improve the lamentable performance of our asylum and immigration systems over a number of years. It is ludicrous that immigration tribunals sit empty and that fee-paid, part-time immigration judges who are used to surge capacity sit unused because the Home Office is unable to get the files in order to present before the tribunal. If it cannot get the cases through the system efficiently and accurately, the Bill will fail.
A kind of isolationist unilateralism will not solve an international problem. Many of us think that the Prime Minister’s work on Friday will be every bit as important as any piece of legislation in finding a way forward to what I hope will be a new agreement with France on security and a movement to a proper returns policy. We need a returns policy with friendly and safe countries to make the Bill work. The Prime Minister has the seriousness and the tone to achieve that.
Finally, we must ensure that we swiftly undertake a sensible approach to the international position to ensure that our reputation continues to be upheld. The rule of law matters domestically and internationally. That does not mean that we turn a blind eye to organised criminality abusing our hospitality—that is a real concern to my constituents. That is why it is important that we move forward, but the idea that any piece of legislation alone will do that, without serious operational changes and the resource to go behind them, is misleading.
Just when I think that I cannot be shocked any further by this Government’s inhumanity, they try to rush this abhorrent and unlawful Bill through Parliament. Human rights and legal organisations are calling this one of the most damaging Bills introduced by a British Government in living memory. That is because the Illegal Migration Bill amounts to a refugee ban. It breaches fundamental and internationally recognised human rights, and attacks our way of life and our communities all over the UK.
Let us be clear: persecuting refugees and anti-migrant scaremongering do not benefit the majority of people. The cynical and dangerous use of scapegoating to divide people by an unpopular Government who have overseen a horrifying death toll during the pandemic and continue to inflict hardship and suffering across the UK, damages our communities. We have already seen an alarming rise in violence and intimidation organised by the far right against refugees and refugee accommodation. But beyond the rhetoric, spin and fake news, the fundamental point is that most people in small boats are men, women and children escaping terror and bloodshed. Chillingly, it is a truth that the Government are obviously aware of, because the majority of people arriving in the UK via boats are granted asylum. They are creating a cruel mechanism to deny sanctuary to people who they know are legitimate refugees and in need.
Why are migrants being forced into risking their lives in the first place? It is simple: for many, there are no safe routes to the UK. In 2022, half the men, women and children who crossed the channel in small boats were from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iran, Sudan or Syria. We know the reasons that people from such countries are displaced, yet only 22 refugees came to the UK on the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. How can that be true? Just recently, the Government confirmed that they do not intend to introduce any special visa routes for people in Turkey and Syria who have been affected by the earthquakes.
As the daughter of migrants who faced violence and persecution from the far right in east London, I am all too conscious of the consequences of pandering to racists. Whether it is the Bangladeshi community standing up and leading the anti-fascist fightback on Brick Lane following the murder of Altab Ali in 1978, or the Jewish community who came together in the battle of Cable Street in 1936 to stand up to Oswald Mosley, in east London we will never let our communities be divided or targeted. The Government should be saving lives, not salvaging their failing political record. We need an approach that prioritises people’s lives and dignity. We need safe and legal routes to the UK. We need the Bill thrown out of Parliament.
We are a rich country—the world’s fifth largest economy. We have international obligations, and it is right that we meet them. In 2020, we were the third highest donor to overseas development in the OECD in absolute terms, and the sixth highest as a proportion of gross national income. We have welcomed thousands of people to this country from Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine and Hong Kong. Whether through the Government and the taxpayer or through people opening their homes, we have seen the great generosity of British people. Indeed, Gary Lineker was correct today to write, as he did on Twitter, that we are
“a country of predominantly tolerant, welcoming and generous people.”
Where I think that he, and others who make the opposing argument, is wrong is that he ignores the fact that that tolerance can be tested and that generosity, while deep, is not limitless.
I take a rather hawkish view on immigration. It should be in the tens of thousands rather than the hundreds of thousands, but I have been surprised by the depth of feeling of Gedling residents on this issue. If I hold a supermarket surgery or knock on people’s doors, what is raised with me unprompted—if not potholes—is the issue of boats and migrants. I think the depth of that feeling is understandable, given the context.
Albania is the top country for small boat arrivals, with 25%. However, compared to other countries, Albania does not face the major international issues for which people request asylum. While there are pull-factors, including language and shared history, the passage of asylum seekers through multiple safe countries undermines the idea that the system we have is one based on fairness.
The asylum case load has doubled since 2014; that increasing burden is unfair to those who are already in the system, awaiting a decision. As we have seen in numerous television pictures, the people arriving across the channel are mainly male, whereas it would be commonly understood that it is mainly women and children who are the most vulnerable. It is also wrong that asylum claims should be granted after a cross-channel migration that has the role of the smuggler as a de facto part of the asylum process. Therefore, it is right that we tackle the issue robustly.
I can put it no better than the person who put an anonymous note through my door at the weekend, which said:
“Dear Mr Randall, I implore you to vote to stop this vile trade. It has to stop now, and you and your fellow MPs can make it happen.”
Today, we can make that happen; we must stop this vile trade.
Listening to Tom Randall, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that somehow or other we have gone back in time. In much the same way as people in the 19th century spoke about the deserving and the undeserving poor, today we have landed in a place where we have the deserving and the undeserving desperate.
The hon. Gentleman referred to the number of men who crossed the channel, but he may not be aware that 7,177 of those who crossed the channel last year were children. The characterisation that he and others have made today is not borne out by the statistics provided by the Home Secretary and the Home Office itself.
There are many different reasons why hon. Members should vote against the Bill this evening. We may choose to vote against it because of concerns about legality, both in respect of our domestic legislation and our international obligations under treaties. It is difficult for those on the Treasury Bench to deliver lectures to those in Beijing in relation to adherence to international law if we do not live up to the same standards ourselves. As the former Prime Minister, Mrs May said, we can choose to reject the Bill on the basis of the impact it will have on our world-leading modern-day slavery legislation. We can even reject it because it lacks a basic sense of British compassion. I was a Minister in the Government that abandoned detention for children for immigration purposes, and I am horrified to see the Conservative party seeking to restore it today.
If compassion and concern for the rule of law are not enough to speak to the values of hon. Members, I can offer them one further reason, which is simply that it will not work. It will not achieve the deterrent effect that it seeks to claim. We have been told this before. We were told that the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 was going to be the Act that would solve the problem, but what has happened since that came into force? The numbers have gone up and up.
The truth is that many people who deserve and are entitled to asylum at present will not get it if the Bill passes. And what will be the consequence of that? They will be sent away and many of them will die. That is why this House should reject the Bill tonight.
I rise to make a simple point, because in the time available that is all we can do. I will draw a little bit of light rather than heat into the issue. I want the Government to succeed in restricting the boats coming across, and in getting rid of them eventually, because of the danger for all those who try to take that route. It is incredibly dangerous and people have died, particularly children.
I want to make a point about one specific area. The Centre for Social Justice brought through the original paper on modern-day slavery. I was enormously proud of it and I was enormously proud that my right hon. Friend Mrs May—the Home Secretary, as she was then—was able to bring that into legislation. We were the first country to adopt that. It is not perfect but there are things that can be changed.
I say gently to the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, and others on the Front Bench, that I do not understand why the Bill makes such a big deal of modern-day slavery when that represents a tiny proportion of people who come over using that route. Let me give a few figures: 6% of small boat arrivals in 2022 claimed modern-day slavery. It reality, the total number is even smaller. When the Government say 73% of people
“detained for return after arriving on a small boat…then referred to the NRM”, that amounts to 294 people. We are talking about small numbers.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend the Minister that we genuinely need to recognise that we have to be careful when treading on this. We are dealing with those who are trafficked, not people smuggling; there is a big difference between the two things. Some 60% of the claims on modern-day slavery are domestic claims, here within the UK, by people who have been trafficked into brothels or who are working in chain gangs. Those are the sort of people we really do want to stand up for, and I recognise that there is a big difference.
The people who my Government—my right hon. Friends, with their legislation—want to seek to stop are those who are coming across illegally, using smugglers. By the way, the single group that gives us the greatest credibility and likelihood of prosecuting those people smugglers, are those who have been trafficked and who then give evidence.
I simply want to say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that we need to look carefully at what we are saying in the Bill. How will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State be able to make a judgment about whether somebody has come illegally or has come illegally and is trafficked, if the national referral mechanism is not to be used for that purpose? If we can get that down to 30 days, most people could be processed without having to take an arbitrary decision. I want my Government to succeed in this matter, but I beg them to be very careful about the modern-day slavery legislation and to protect it.
We need to tone down the debate. Let us be clear: no one on the Opposition Benches wants the small boat crossings to continue or to see people forced into those boats. We want to see legal routes for those people and for them to find alternatives rather than having to go to those traffickers. Nor does anyone on the Opposition Benches want anyone to stay in the UK who has committed a crime and has no right to remain. It is time that Conservatives MPs stopped standing up and making claims such as that.
The overriding problem with the Bill, as has already been said, is that many Government Members know it is not going to work. The danger is that, beyond that, they think that the solution to the problem is for us to leave the European convention on human rights. As one of my hon. Friends pointed out, they are not respecting what the European convention on human rights means to this country. For instance, if we want to arrange for the safe return of failed refugee claimants from this country, we will need to have an agreement with countries in Europe that are signatories to the European convention on human rights. If we are not seen to be inside that convention, they will not be able to enter into those agreements, so they will be defeating the very object that they seek to achieve in the legislation.
Moreover, if we are to fall foul of the European convention on human rights, we will not be able to reach legal agreements on issues such as extradition, fingerprints, DNA on biometric data or the essential exchange of that data when dealing with serious crime. Beyond that, a serious criminal, harbouring in Europe, could claim legitimately that their human rights are at risk if they are extradited to the UK. Imagine that argument in a case made by a serious criminal who we want to extradite back here to face justice. They might say that their human rights are at risk and that would be a legitimate claim for them not to face justice in this country.
The Bill is not the solution to the problem we have. We need to create safer routes for people who are legitimate asylum seekers to come to this country. We need to deal with the backlog and we need to create an organisation that will deal with the criminals who are trafficking people across in small boats. That is the way forward, not this piece of legislation that is just dog-whistle politics.
We are very lucky to live in a country people want to escape to, not a country people want to escape from, and we should all be mindful of the words we use. I support the Bill’s Second Reading, but I want to make a few points.
Four hundred years ago, John Donne wrote:
“No man is an island, entire of itself”.
In today’s interconnected world, no country, even if it is an island, can be entire of itself. The war in Ukraine has reminded us that when there is instability or insecurity in another part of the world, it can result in instability and insecurity here in the UK. It is very important that the UK can use its official development assistance funding to help poorer countries to build their stability, but we are having to divert billions of pounds of our ODA funding to care for the tens of thousands of people who have come to the UK by small boats. That is money that could instead have helped tens of millions of people to tackle the causes of instability in their own country.
John Donne also said that
“any man’s death diminishes me”.
The UK has a long history of giving asylum to those who have suffered war or persecution. We should continue to offer asylum, but the small boats route has resulted in many lives lost, not just on the channel but on the way to the channel. Action needs to be taken to close that extremely dangerous route.
We also need to recognise that no country’s capacity to offer asylum is unlimited. We must focus our support and prioritise helping the most vulnerable. The vast majority who arrive by small boats are men under the age of 40, not the disabled or the frail. By giving priority to those who arrive by illegal routes, we reduce the amount of support that we can give to safe and legal routes and we divert resources away from the vulnerable. That is not fair and it is not compassionate.
I am pleased that the Government have announced that they will introduce more safe and legal routes, but they need to go hand in hand with other measures, not come as an afterthought. Furthermore, it should not be left to local authorities alone to decide how many people our country can support. I recall that when I was children’s Minister there was a time when all Scottish local authorities bar one refused to take any unaccompanied asylum-seeking children at all. I am concerned that if local authorities are left to their own decision making, many will say that they have no capacity to support asylum seekers.
Finally, as a former children’s Minister, I note the comments that the Children’s Commissioner made today. I hope that these important points can be addressed as the Bill moves through its stages in this House. I hope that the Government will be able to find a way to ensure a fair, balanced and compassionate approach to migration, and that this will be the one that prevails.
As Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I will focus on aspects of the Bill that potentially breach the European convention on human rights.
The Committee will be scrutinising the Bill very carefully and reporting on it in early course. So far as I can see, however, the Bill is designed to set the UK on a deliberate collision course with the European Court of Human Rights. In their human rights memorandum, the Government accept that the Bill engages articles 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 13 and 14 of the ECHR. By her statement under section 19(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act, the Home Secretary clearly accepts that some or all of those rights might be breached by the Bill. For once, she is correct.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights published in January our report on the Bill of Rights Bill. We said that that Bill should be scrapped. Now we see some of its most reprehensible aspects cropping up in this Bill. Time permits me to identify only two. First, clause 1(5) undermines the fundamental principle of the universality of human rights by creating a class of people in respect of whom the courts in the United Kingdom will not be required to interpret the Bill in a way that is compatible with the convention.
Secondly, clause 49(1) sets conditions on the UK’s compliance with interim measures issued by the Court in Strasbourg. The Home Secretary tries to pretend that there is something unusual about such orders, but any undergraduate law student knows that for a legal system to be effective, courts must be able to issue interim orders requiring parties to take, or not to take, certain steps while the full arguments in a case are litigated. In Scotland, they are called interim interdicts, while in England they are interim injunctions; I am sure the Home Secretary must have heard of them. Such orders are issued by the Strasbourg Court to prevent irreparable damage to human rights while a case is being considered. It was interim orders from the Strasbourg Court that stopped Russia executing British soldiers Shaun Pinner and Aiden Aslin.
Talking of Russia, many of the Bill’s provisions echo legislation passed by Russia in 2015 that limits the availability and applicability of ECHR rights—and we all know what happened to Russia’s membership of the convention. Is that really the sort of bedfellow that the UK wants?
In Scotland we want no part of this. The convention is written into the Scotland Act, embodying the devolved settlement, which is the settled will of the Scottish people. If the UK takes us out of the ECHR, it will be without the consent of Scottish voters and without the consent of our Parliament. When I led a delegation of the Joint Committee to Strasbourg last year, I was told by interlocutors there that if the UK leaves the ECHR it will strengthen the case for Scottish independence. While the Tories try to give Labour a headache, they are creating yet another reason for Scots to favour independence over the status quo
I fundamentally disagree with almost everything that Joanna Cherry said, as many people may understand.
I believe in the rule of law, I believe in Parliament, I believe in democracy and I believe in the sovereignty of this Parliament. I therefore want this Bill to work, but I do believe that it will require amendment in Committee or on Report. There needs to be a “notwithstanding” formula in the Bill to enable us to ensure that the courts cannot simply apply the arrangements currently in operation. As Lord Sumption said at the weekend, of course the courts will obey an Act of Parliament where it is necessary to do so.
I agree very much with my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis about clause 49, which addresses interim measures of the European Court; I have made the same point myself, as indeed has Professor Ekins, a professor of constitutional law at Oxford. The bottom line is that we will have to make certain that only final judgments will apply, not interim measures. I could spend much more time on that point, but I will not. I am quite sure that a “notwithstanding” provision will be required, because otherwise I am afraid that the clause may not work effectively.
On international law, I simply say to hon. Friends that article 31 of the refugee convention, which deals with unlawful refugees in respect of, for example, the United Kingdom, does not apply at all unless such refugees have come
“directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened”.
It therefore does not apply if they have come from France or Albania, for example. For the same reasons, article 33 does not apply. We are compliant with international law in these respects, which is of great benefit to us and to everybody concerned.
We have prevaricated for far too long. The Labour party will never sort this out. The unelected Lords will oppose this Bill. The Bill, as amended by this elected House, must therefore be made subject to the Parliament Acts and must receive Royal Assent before the general election. The Prime Minister is right to say, “Stop the boats,” but it has to be done lawfully. Under the Bill, with some amendment, we will be able to achieve that. Promises will not do. I am sure that we will find that the promises that have been made can be fulfilled.
I call Ian Byrne.
Thank you, Mr Speaker—it is an unexpected pleasure.
I will be voting against the Bill today. I am proud to support the reasoned amendment in the name of my hon. Friend Bell Ribeiro-Addy to stop the Bill in its tracks. This pernicious Bill fails to protect children and other victims from trafficking, fails to ensure safe routes for refugees and fails to treat people with humanity. It disgracefully expands the Government’s hostile environment. If enacted, it will mean that anyone who has been put in the desperate situation of having to arrive in the UK on a small boat because of this Government’s failure to facilitate safe routes will have their asylum claim deemed inadmissible. The Home Office will not even consider their claim, no matter how strong their application may be.
Clause 2 will enable the Government to seek to remove anyone who does not arrive via a specific route or with specific documentation. Those are requirements that the Government know it is next to impossible for somebody fleeing violence and persecution to meet. The 1951 United Nations refugee convention, to which the UK is a signatory, states explicitly that refugees shall not be penalised solely by reason of unlawful entry or because, being in need of refuge and protection, they remain illegally in a country. As the United Nations points out:
“Most people fleeing war and persecution are simply unable to access the required passports and visas. There are no safe and ‘legal’ routes available to them. Denying them access to asylum on this basis undermines the very purpose for which the Refugee Convention was established.”
Trade unions and human rights campaigners have rightly condemned the Bill, under which everyone who is subject to the new removal duty can also potentially be detained. The House should be doing everything in its power to ensure that people fleeing persecution and violence are given the safety, care and support that they need, not inflicting further trauma and harm on them. Is this really what we have become? It shames those who have gone before us in the House.
This anti-refugee Bill must be voted down. It is inhumane and immoral, and if I were a betting man I would also say it is illegal. The TUC has said that the
“Government’s proposal and the language used to describe it are divisive and will stoke tension.”
We saw evidence of that on the border of my constituency in Knowsley last month. The language used is so dangerous and damaging to our communities.
Let me end by making an observation. It is not the people in boats we should fear coming to our shores, but the elite in the private jets who, along with this Government, are responsible for the unequal, broken society in which we live, where millions shiver and starve in their own homes, seeing no future for themselves and their families. I urge the House to reject the politics of division, and reject a Bill that shames this place and everything that it is supposed to stand for.
Both the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have made it clear that tackling illegal immigration is an absolute priority for this Government, and I wholeheartedly welcome the firm measures outlined in the Bill. The sad fact is that this country has been a soft touch for far too long. Our asylum policy has been chaotic, granting approvals to questionable claims and leaving people waiting years for decisions, and all at a cost of billions of pounds per year to the taxpayer. It is any wonder that the people of this country are sick and tired of the situation?
My constituency is the most deprived in England. Many residents cannot access housing, struggle to obtain a GP appointment, and have little chance of finding an NHS dentist. They have paid into the system all their lives. Is it any wonder that when they see people entering the country illegally, receiving free accommodation, free food and access to local services, they are incredibly frustrated and angry?
Let us dispel some of the myths surrounding this issue that we hear from the Opposition, from lefty lawyers and from celebrity do-gooders. Many of the people entering this country in small boats are not genuine asylum seekers. If their lives were truly in danger, they would have claimed sanctuary in the first safe country where they had arrived. Instead, these people have travelled through many safe European nations to try to come to the UK. They are invariably single young men, and increasingly from nations such as Albania. They are coming here not for sanctuary, but as illegal economic migrants. Our public services are already creaking under enormous pressure, and we simply cannot accept hundreds of millions of people who would no doubt seek to come here for a better life. I am afraid that this country is nearly full.
The measures in this Bill are ones for which the residents of Blackpool have been crying out for an awfully long time, but they can work only if we fully enact our Rwanda plan. It has been immensely frustrating that this policy has been tied up in the courts, both domestic and foreign. It is outrageous that the policy of the elected Government of the day should be restricted in this manner, and it is clear that the Bill is likely to encounter similar judicial frustrations. However, I urge the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to stop at nothing to tackle this issue. If the Bill requires reform of, or a departure from, elements of the ECHR framework —as seems likely—that is exactly what we must do. We simply have to sort this situation out, and the Government have my full support in doing so.
Let me remind Scott Benton that the reason our public services are crumbling and people cannot see a dentist, and the reason NHS workers are queuing up at food banks and parents are living on their children’s leftovers, is nothing to do with migrants, asylum seekers or refugees; it is the fact that his party has been in power for the last 13 years.
Last night, Ke Huy Quan won best supporting actor at the Oscars. In the 1970s, he fled Vietnam in a refugee crisis that saw countries closing their borders to desperate people arriving by boat. Had he arrived on our shores under this Bill, he might well have been locked up and deported. Last year, the Olympian Sir Mo Farah revealed that he had arrived in the UK under a false passport, trafficked from a war zone into domestic servitude. Had he arrived under this Bill, he might not have been eligible for access to modern slavery protections.
I raise those examples not because I think that refugees should need to win awards and medals before they are respected, but to remind the House that the refugees whom the Government seeks to ban are people, with their own hopes and dreams—people who want to rebuild their lives and be reunited with their families; people who, like any one of us, may go on to do exceptional things or lead very ordinary existences, as should be their right. I say that because it seems that some Members need reminding of refugees’ humanity. When they say “invasion” they present desperate people seeking sanctuary as a threat, when they say “stop the boats” they mean that we should turn our back on refugees, and when their policy is welcomed by far-right groups, we should all be alarmed about the direction in which the Government are taking us.
What the Home Secretary is proposing is a de facto ban on seeking asylum in the UK, because for the vast majority of refugees there is no so-called legal way of reaching the UK. If you face religious persecution in Iran, there is no scheme to which you can apply. If you are a victim of torture in Eritrea, there is no visa that you can obtain. Even if you are from Afghanistan, a country that is supposed to have a resettlement scheme, the chances of your being accepted are vanishingly tiny: only 22 people have arrived under pathway 2. It is our asylum policies that are forcing people into the arms of smugglers and pushing people into fragile dinghies in the world’s busiest shipping lane, and it is this Government who are to blame for the misery that they cause. The only one way in which to resolve this situation is to open safe and legal routes—now.
This country, including the people in my constituency of Hyndburn and Haslingden, is amazingly kind, as we have seen with the Homes for Ukraine scheme. I think that people in this country are genuinely supportive of immigration and refugees when they perceive the legislative system to be fair. Stopping channel crossings is not just vital for the UK; it is the humanitarian policy option as well.
Every moment we flounder and stagger around this debate, people smugglers are preying on people in Calais and Dunkirk, persuading them to make an unsafe journey, and that must be stopped. To do that, we need to address the pull factor: the feeling people have that if they can just get to the UK, they will be settled for life. While I welcome the Prime Minister’s new agreement with France, we cannot rely on that policy alone to reduce numbers. The Opposition have claimed repeatedly that new agreements with France are their priority, but the Prime Minister has already achieved that, delivering the largest ever small boats deal with France.
In my inbox, and when I am out and about on the doorstep in Hyndburn and Haslingden, this is one of the most frequently raised issues. I often think, when I hear SW1-centric commentators debate the subject, that the voice of people in northern communities such as mine is completely ignored. The fact of the matter is that in my part of the world, Hyndburn is supporting the second highest number of people receiving asylum support in Lancashire. The north-west as a region has more people in receipt of asylum support than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined.
The Home Office acknowledges that these numbers fluctuate quite regularly, and that leads me on to my second point. The current system prioritises moving asylum seekers out of the south-east. We need to ensure not only that we have a fair immigration system but that places such as mine in one of the most deprived areas in the country do not bear the brunt of it where we are already struggling. We need a fair system, and that is why the people of Hyndburn and Haslingden support this legislation put forward by the Home Secretary.
It is frankly frightening that we are at the second stage of a Bill that begins with an effective admission by the Home Secretary that the proposed legislation is not compatible with international law and human rights obligations. Yet despite this, the Home Secretary says that they want this House to go along with it anyway. The European convention on human rights is often misrepresented by the Conservatives and their media friends, but the facts are that it was drafted by the UK and it protects the rights of my constituents in Leicester East and of every one of us.
The Bill is frightening, not just for refugees but because it sets a precedent that the Government can simply choose to derogate our human rights with almost no route to legal challenge. Not even children are safe under this Bill. While it does not instruct the deportation of unaccompanied children, it does give permission for their deportation if the Government or the Home Secretary so wishes. This is monstrous legislation, and no assurances from Conservative Members can make it less so. Will the Home Secretary commit today to protecting the rights of unaccompanied children and to ensuring that they will not be deported under any circumstances?
Let us be clear: while the Government disguise the Bill under their “stop the boats” slogan, this legislation is designed to give them the power to pick and choose which people from which countries and regions can apply for asylum, whether they come by boat or not. Many would argue that this is racist legislation, allowing safe and legal routes for a select group but not for others in classic colonial divide-and-rule style. According to the Government, a person escaping torture, persecution or war—even those wars involving British-made bombs and weapons—who applies for asylum on arrival is already disqualified and automatically made ineligible with no right of appeal, and under this Bill, they will be deported.
Furthermore, the Bill gives the Government the power to detain for 28 days human beings who have committed no crime, with no right of appeal or right to apply for immigration bail. This is a state-sanctioned fascism. It is inhumane and cruel. It is beyond dispute that the Bill is an attack on internationally protected legal rights, but it goes even further to explicitly state that its purpose is to exclude certain human rights entitlements from the asylum process. The Bill states that certain human rights claims are made inadmissible. It is also a move by the Government to put themselves and their agents above the law. The late, great Tony Benn famously said we should watch how a Government treat their refugees because that is how they will treat UK citizens—
Order. In fairness, I want to get everybody in, so please help each other and help me.
Sovereign states have a duty to protect their borders from the illegal movement of drugs, contraband and people, but sovereignty is not just about protection from outside interference; it is also about having responsibility for our own citizens’ welfare. We hear so much about rights but not enough about responsibilities. The UK Government, as with any Government, have a responsibility to protect democracy, the rule of law and the rights of their citizens.
The UK’s illegal immigration issue is complex and multifaceted. It is about rights and responsibilities, and it needs addressing. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have put together a plan that will significantly address illegal migration. Illegal migration is wrong. Organised immigration crime, which is what we are talking about here, makes it easy for criminal gangs to make money and funds other forms of organised crime. Illegal immigration is not just a moral question; it is about fairness, too. It is not fair on hard-working British taxpayers who are spending billions a year funding the support for illegal immigrants when there is already pressure on our public services.
Illegal immigration is not fair on those who come here legally and abide by the rules, and the abuse of our system undermines trust in the system. Paying people smugglers is a choice, and entering the UK illegally prevents law enforcement from conducting criminal record or security checks. We have a legal visa route for those people who wish to come here to work, and we do not have a Government that are against immigration. The number of non-EU visas was at an all-time high last year. Criminal gangs who make money out of people trafficking and smuggling must be stopped and their business model dismantled.
I have listened to the narrative about illegal immigration over the past three years or so. Opposition Members are quick to criticise and challenge any measures taken by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, but they have no plan and no solutions of their own. None has any desire at all to stop this trade and to secure our borders. None has any desire to exercise the primary responsibility of a UK Government, which is to serve, safeguard and protect the British public. Why do they think it is wrong to deport people with no right to be here, including foreign criminals?
We have to stop the boats, and the Conservatives are the only party with the plan and the desire to do so. Opposition parties are pro-open borders; they just will not admit it. They are dishonest to this House and to the British public to claim otherwise.
I despair at the tone of this debate and the dog whistle, the false argument—we have just heard it—that the Labour party wants open borders. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be further from the truth. We have heard manufactured political rows in recent days and in this debate, but I say to Conservative Members who are willing to listen with an open mind that this is a serious issue.
To be clear, I want secure and safe borders for my constituents. I want a robust and fair asylum system. I want compassion for those in desperate need of help, as the UK has always provided, including this Government to people from Syria, Ukraine and Hong Kong. But I want the system to work, and it is not working at present. The Government say it is not working because of migrants, but I say it is not working because the Home Office, on this Government’s watch, is not fit for purpose.
If rhetoric alone worked, the issues we are debating today would have been fixed by the last three immigration Bills, which we opposed because we said they were unworkable rhetoric. I am afraid the same is true of many of the measures before us tonight. When we hear talk of hundreds of millions wanting to come to these shores, it is sensationalist. To say we are going to be “swamped” is just wrong. To say that we are going to be “overrun” is not correct. We hear that “lefty lawyers” and “saboteurs” in the courts are to blame—it is always somebody else.
I believe there is actually a lot of common ground, as we have heard from Sir Robert Buckland, Mrs May and Sir Robert Neill. We can get around the table, and together we can plan an asylum and immigration system that works in the interests of our country and our constituents. This Government championed the fight against modern slavery, but this Bill does a disservice to that issue.
Finally, it does not matter what we think about the European convention on human rights. Many of the countries listed in the schedule to this Bill are also signatories, and they will not accept returns if we are against the convention. The Government need to rethink.
I rise to support this policy because I believe it is fair, sensible and in keeping with the UK remaining a compassionate country. An asylum system should not be based on people’s ability to make the journey to a foreign country—that is what is not fair.
Those who oppose this policy say that people would not need to make the journey if there were more safe and legal routes. Let us follow through that line of thought and say we set up application centres in France. Although the journey would be less strenuous, a grandmother in a wheelchair or a double amputee would still be less able than a fit adult to make the journey, so it would remain unfair. So let us say we set up application centres in a more accessible country such as Turkey. What would happen next?
Even if there is disagreement on the exact figure, no one can deny that many millions of people around the world would be eligible for asylum in the UK. If tens of thousands of people are willing to make such a long and arduous journey to the UK to seek asylum, it is obvious to me that many, many more would make an easier journey to somewhere like Turkey. I cannot imagine the number being less than double, and there is no reason to think it would not be even higher. For anyone who understands British public opinion, it would be completely untenable to continue with that position. We would then need to introduce a cap, and then what? Of course, we would have to turn some people away. A humane policy would prioritise granting the elderly, the disabled and ill people asylum, which would leave fit, younger people as the ones we turned away. There is no reason why they would not make the crossing by boat in any case and we would be right back where we started.
That is why more safe and legal routes will not solve this problem—because at the heart of the issue is the fact that many more people could legitimately claim asylum than the British public would or should reasonably take in. If someone’s test of an asylum policy’s humaneness is whether a particular deserving individual—we have heard many such examples this evening—can obtain asylum, no policy will ever pass it, because unless we agree to take in everyone, there will always be people who would like and deserve to come here who will not be able to do so.
What the British public expect is that we take our fair share. Even if someone personally wants the UK to take many more refugees than we do, we have to remember that we are talking about taxpayers’ money. Compassion paid for by someone else is compassion that must be offered carefully, because if we do not do that, we find that we grow the resentment and hostility that we seek to avoid in the first place. The British people are fair and compassionate, and they ask me and they ask each other, “If people are coming from France and they are young men, are they really the people we have in mind when we want to say that we give a safe haven to the most vulnerable? Does a preference to come to an English-speaking country give someone a right to be here?” Those are fair questions and if we do not answer them, someone else will.
That might seem harsh, but I am a Conservative because I believe we should act with our heads as well as our hearts, and that we should care less about how something looks on social media and in the Chamber, and more about what it actually does. There is no problem-free panacea to this issue; it is about doing what helps best overall, which is why I am supportive of this policy and I am confident that the British public will be too.
This dehumanising Bill will not stop boats, but it is no exaggeration to say that it will destroy our asylum system, it does rip up international law, it leaves modern slavery legislation in tatters and it tramples all over human rights. But the implications of this Bill for people—for the human beings caught up in it—are the most important consideration. The reality is that every man, woman, pregnant woman and child, no matter their individual circumstances and history, is to be treated in the same brutal way. Whether to a young man who fled the Taliban because of his sexuality, a woman tortured and raped because she converted to Christianity, or a child trafficked here by a gang for exploitation, this Bill says, “We don’t care. They applied for the wrong visa or they arrived here by the wrong route.” That is all that counts under this Bill, not the horrors that these people have had to endure. It is as though to this Government these are not human beings; all they are is a political problem.
How this Bill treats these people is nothing short of sickening. The provisions on detention, if anyone bothered to read them, are outrageous. Protections for vulnerable people, pregnant women and children are tossed aside. Judicial oversight of liberty is made almost worthless. The Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Robert Neill, talked about habeas corpus, but that is a prehistoric relic and we should not be left to rely on it to secure somebody’s freedom. The Home Secretary basically helps herself here to a power to detain whoever she wants, for as long as she wants. It is, to put it mildly, extreme stuff.
The permanent inadmissibility rules are as stupid as they are heartless, leaving genuine refugees—the Afghan, the Christian convert—either waiting to be removed to Rwanda for years on end or in permanent limbo. Bizarrely, and I do not think this penny has dropped for Conservative Members at all, it actually makes it harder to remove people who do not qualify for asylum, because if we do not consider their asylum application, we cannot remove them to their home country. That is explicit in the Bill, so this is making it harder to remove people who have no genuine claim for asylum.
Trafficking victims are also disgracefully abandoned in this Bill. For the overwhelming majority, there will be no recovery period. There will no leave to remain. They are being forced straight back into the arms of their people traffickers. The treatment of children in this Bill is equally shocking, with more detention; more unsafe accommodation, from where they can be exploited; less child protection; their being kicked out of this country at 18; and no prospect ever of citizenship.
So this is an utterly disgraceful Bill that needs to be kicked out today, Frankly, the timetabling of the Bill is also a complete disgrace, as is the lack of an impact assessment. It is pathetic that Parliament is allowing itself to be treated in this manner.
All western countries have immigration controls. They have rules and a system that people have to go through. Thousands of people fill out the forms, get the sponsors, pay the cheques and go through the official Home Office systems, for a range of purposes. We all deal with constituency casework, and sometimes it takes a long time to get a legitimate wife in or to get somebody approved for a job. But no Government in the western world can allow the legitimate rules-based system to be undermined by people arriving illegitimately in boats as they do in Kent, because it undermines the whole system. It undermines all those people who decide to follow the system. The majority of people who arrive in Kent are white men under 40 who want jobs because they are economic migrants. We ought to ensure that we stop the trade so that, ultimately, people do not come here. If they want to come here, they should follow legitimate routes. The reality is that people who arrive illegally cause the state to spend resources on them, which is a massive irritation to our constituents. That money could be spent on education or the NHS. It could be spent on speeding up processing by the Home Office system so that those who are waiting to come in legitimately could enter more speedily. Many people think we are being taken for suckers because we are not dealing with this system. The Home Office is trying to set up rules that ensure that we deal with the situation which our constituents elected many of us to deal with, to control illegal immigration.
There is clearly work to do on the Bill. Bills are not perfect and this will go through the full parliamentary process. I think that the Home Office is trying to do its best to ensure that we safeguard our borders for a range of reasons. I agree with comments made by some of my hon. Friends, including the former Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland. It is not just laws that we need to pass—we need to administer the system far better. I have confidence that the team in the Home Office will get on top of this and begin to deal with the issues that our constituents feel passionately about. It is only fair and reasonable and it is what people expect.
The Government and their immediate predecessor have not tried to formulate workable policy on this issue, which was evident from the Home Secretary’s bizarre and unconvincing opening speech. They are trying to keep the European Research Group and other agitators onside—grubby politicking by using the most vulnerable people, often fleeing the effects of our wars, or persecution or reprisals, as collateral damage. The reality is that most asylum applications are fully justified. In the end, after long and unnecessary delays, three quarters of applications are granted, yet these are the people the Government want to deny entry, not because of their circumstances but because of how they arrived.
We now have the abject sight of Ministers putting out propaganda that boasts that anyone arriving by small boat will not be offered the protections of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Ministers are actually saying that they will refuse protections to people being trafficked and used as modern slaves, making the policy a charter for people trafficking. They cannot say that they are combating people smuggling if all they are doing is putting policies in place that encourage it.
One of the arguments that is often used, especially in relation to France, is that it is a safe space. I was in Calais earlier this year, and I can tell Members that it is anything but safe for refugees, particularly children. In fact, our Government are paying more and more money to make it more hostile and unsafe for the vulnerable people who go there. [Interruption.] They absolutely are.
The Bill does not address any of the issues when it comes to the need for humanity, but there is an alternative, and it is a policy that is supported by all the experts in the field. We could establish safe and legal routes—not the mythical routes that the Home Secretary does not seem able to name; she does not seem able to give a single indication as to what they are. There could be a number of processing centres close to the French coast. Residence visas could be issued to all those entitled to be here. They could be transported here safely, with no excuse for maintaining appalling immigration detention centres. If the argument of humanity does not appeal to Government Members, they could think about the millions of pounds that would be saved. Companies such as Serco, Mears, G4S and Clearsprings—the big winners in the immigration detention estate—would lose some money, and the tabloids would have to find someone else to attack. Government Ministers would have to find a new enemy to distract people from their spectacular economic failures. We would not be breaking international law, demonising vulnerable people or falling out again with our closest neighbours.
This legislation should not have seen the light of day. There is nothing worth retaining, which is why I was pleased to table a cross-party amendment. I am pleased to support the reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. If Government Members are as disturbed as they say they are, they should do the right thing, walk through the Lobby with us and vote against the Bill.
I have been trying for two years to get a young girl, Maira Shahbaz, into this country. Aged 14, she was raped and abducted and she is now hiding in a room after being forced into marriage. I am told that I cannot get her in because the whole system is under such pressure, so I am all in favour of safe and legal routes.
However, the fact is that such is the misery in the world that there is no limit to the number of fit, able young men who want to come over here from Iraq, Eritrea and Syria. I do not blame them; I would do the same. We speak English, President Macron has a point that we have no identity cards—maybe we should have identity cards—and they can get jobs here. We could open a safe and legal processing centre in Lille and it would be overwhelmed: 1,000 would apply today and 10,000 tomorrow. There is no limit to how many people want to come. We could process asylum applications even more quickly, and that would produce even more applications. We could have more gendarmes based on the beach in France and, as I said earlier, people will try the first night, and the second night they will make it.
We have to do something, otherwise they are coming to every hotel. Every single hotel in the country is rapidly being filled up. For two years, I and my local council of West Lindsey have been producing a fantastic plan to try to get redevelopment of former RAF Scampton. We will get £300 million-worth of investment. It is the home of the Dambusters and the Red Arrows; we will have a heritage centre. But the Home Office is so desperate, because every single hotel is filled up, that it has now marched into my constituency and said that it wants to put 1,500 asylum seekers there.
Of course we oppose that. Nobody else in this Chamber cares a damn about what happens in Gainsborough, but I am the local champion; I care about my people and I care about £300 million-worth of investment. I am asking for an assurance from the Home Office that, if the asylum seekers do come in, they will not put at risk that wonderful development. However, in an interview with BBC Radio Lincolnshire, Peter Hewitt of Scampton Holdings said that his development would be “totally scuppered”, that the move would be
“rather inconsistent with running an airfield and airside operations”, and that, if the housing plans went ahead, 40 acres out of the 130 acres earmarked for redevelopment would be taken up.
That is just one example of what is happening in our country. The system is broken. We have to do something about it, and international experience proves, whether in Greece or Australia, that the only two policies that work are offshoring or pushback. Nothing else works. Unless we pass this Bill, unless we have the courage to try to create an asylum system that brings into this country the real asylum seekers such as Maira Shahbaz, the people who have been raped or forced into marriages, we will have a never-ending stream of young men paying criminal gangs to get into our country.
Back in 2019, the company that provides accommodation for asylum seekers in Northern Ireland housed around 1,000 people. Last Thursday, the figure was 3,271. One third of them are in traditional housing stock and two thirds populated within 20 hotels in Northern Ireland, predominantly on the eastern side of our Province. I know the pressure that that places on some local communities and some local services.
Earlier in this debate there was a challenge to Members that they should be temperate in their language and courteous to one another, so let me say this, as the Democratic Unionists’ spokesperson on home affairs and immigration in this Chamber: I am not an out-of-touch lefty. I am not on the side of people smugglers, I am not a naive do-gooder and I am not against the British people, but I will be supporting the official Opposition’s amendment this evening.
I say that as somebody who supported the Nationality and Borders Bill when it was before this House. I say it as somebody who, when the Prime Minister came to this Chamber a number of weeks ago and highlighted the problems with our immigration system, was incredibly encouraged that he recognised that there was a problem when so many applications are being approved in the United Kingdom, yet similar ones elsewhere in the European Union are not. I thought there was a clear sign that our Government were actually going to grasp these issues in a way that would work, not present us with a Bill that, on the face of it, is incompatible with the ECHR. I am interested in dealing with the problems of unmanaged or illegal migration in this country, but I am not interested in getting involved in what amounts to a culture war—a political culture war that is more about the forthcoming general election than anything else. It is a shame all around.
Mrs May and Sir Robert Buckland were probably too polite when they addressed this shibboleth as to what is really behind this Bill. The right hon. Member for Maidenhead was right when she said that the Nationality and Borders Bill has not had enough time to bed in. I thought the Prime Minister was right when he highlighted the deficiencies in the system. How much better would it be to sort out asylum applications and the process of assessing them than to do away with the process of accepting asylum applicants altogether? I have stood in this Chamber against indefinite detention: it is cruel, and it is immoral. This Bill will probably proceed this evening, but it will not proceed with my support at this stage, and I will certainly be working to change it.
I entered politics in 1999 and, since then, having become a Member of this place in 2019, I have always put representation at the heart of everything. We are a representative democracy before we are anything else. When I represent the people of Dudley here, I speak from the heart, saying that an overwhelming majority would want me to support the Bill put forward tonight.
The Bill would deter people from undertaking very perilous journeys, and not only across the channel. It is those people who perish in the channel who we get to hear about; the ones we do not get to hear about are the ones who might be coming across from the other side of Africa, or from another God-forsaken country, all the way to Calais. We do not hear about the harm that comes to them, but while the message out there is “Set foot in this United Kingdom and you shall not be removed ever again”, we remain a magnet, and people will continue to make those very dangerous trips.
I hear what Opposition Members say. I hear what Scottish Members say. I must mention Alison Thewliss. She was right when she said that Glasgow Central takes more asylum seekers than the rest of Scotland, but that is a very relative comment to make when speaking to everyone in this Chamber. The debate in Scotland in November 2022 —only a few months ago—was to argue against the Home Office, which was saying, “You should be taking 4,000 asylum seekers under the dispersal scheme.” The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, which represents a significant number of councils in Scotland, was saying, “No, we can’t do that. It should only be 2,000.” It was a member of the Scottish Government who said that it should be a voluntary system for councils in Scotland.
I hear from Labour Members, who like to virtue signal and show that they are representing their own views, rather than those of their constituents, when they talk about people who should be coming to this country because they are raped or because they are children. What is actually happening, if we look at the Albanians who have come over here—just to give an example—is that 14,000 of them have come from a safe country, Albania, to another safe country, France, and over here. Why do we never hear about them from Labour Members? We only hear about those tiny numbers who they like to talk about.
I served on the Nationality and Borders Bill Committee, where we were told time and again that that Bill’s provisions to criminalise refugees would break the business model of people smugglers, despite the Department’s own impact assessment saying that the sorts of measures being proposed risked failing and driving people to more desperate routes. That Bill was designed not to work, but to create the appearance of doing something: for the headlines, to provoke a fight with the UNHCR, to attack immigration lawyers, and to provide a platform for the lie—repeated again today—that Labour believes in open borders. Less than a year after it became law, here we are again. The Home Office impact assessment was proved right, the position in the channel is worse, numbers making desperate journeys are higher, the appalling Rwanda scheme is stalled, and what is the Government’s response? To double down on failure. We have a new Home Secretary, but the same approach.
This Bill is even more cruel, and we should look in particular at the Children’s Commissioner’s concerns over child refugees, but the central proposition remains the same: to defeat people smugglers by criminalising their victims. Again, it is not designed to work, but to create the illusion of action—talking up a problem, but offering no solution. It is cynical, irresponsible and damaging to our politics. At Prime Minister’s questions last week, the PM was right to say that there is a global migration challenge, but the Government like to give the impression that those entering Europe do so with the sole intention of getting to the UK, ignoring every safe country along the way. Of course, that is not true. Nineteen other European countries take more refugees by head of population, and the biggest numbers are hosted by countries such Turkey, Colombia, Pakistan and Uganda.
We need an honest debate. We need to stop the “good refugee, bad refugee” narrative of Ministers. The Government have closed doors to all seeking refuge, except from Ukraine, from Hong Kong and the desperately difficult route remaining from Afghanistan. Ministers should stop demonising economic migrants. Clearly, we cannot accommodate everyone who wants to come here, but it is not a crime for them to seek a better life for themselves and their families—it is what people have done since the beginning of time. There is an irony that as Ministers demonise those coming for work, they are actually opening up new routes, as the Financial Times reported last week.
We need a joined-up discussion on migration and asylum, and we need to take care with the language. When Ministers talk up problems around refugees and raise false expectations about the legislation, it damages democratic politics and opens opportunities for the far right, as we have seen in recent weeks. Let us tone down the rhetoric and look at real solutions. We can start by voting down this Bill.
Our immigration and asylum system must be fair and able to support people fleeing violence and persecution and those who are most vulnerable, but it must not be undermined by criminal gangs who profit from illegal immigration and put at risk the very people we want to help. Do people believe that the criminal gangs are supporting asylum seekers? Does anyone in this House believe that we should thank them for their humanitarian endeavours? Of course not.
Support for vulnerable asylum seekers should be based on assessment of need, not on ability to pay or connections to criminal gangs to bypass the system. Support for vulnerable asylum seekers should never mean that lives are put at risk in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in a small boat. Safe and legal routes must be the means through which the most vulnerable receive support, not by giving in to criminal gangs.
Schemes such as the Syrian resettlement scheme, the Afghan scheme and Homes for Ukraine have seen many thousands of refugees successfully relocated to the UK. We need more such schemes so that refugees, wherever they come from, can access safe and legal processes for claiming asylum. Our communities have opened their hearts and homes to those seeking refuge, and they will continue to welcome those genuinely fleeing violence and persecution. That is their choice, but our communities do not choose an ever-increasing burden of illegal immigration being foisted on the country by criminal gangs.
In the past year, 45,000 people illegally entered the UK by small boats. It costs the British taxpayer £3 billion a year. Imagine if the money spent housing people who came here illegally was used to create more safe routes for asylum claims—imagine the difference that would make for the thousands of genuine claimants without the means to access legal routes. Imagine the difference we could make if, instead of political point scoring, the parties on the Opposition Benches joined with us to end the exploitation and illegality that is rife in the current system and worked with us to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable.
This immoral, deeply cruel and divisive Bill breaks international law, rides roughshod over human rights and shames us all. I would argue that it shames especially the Ministers who are deliberately and dangerously stirring up hatred with their vile and dehumanising language. I am pleased to associate myself with the reasoned amendment in the name of Bell Ribeiro-Addy.
Let us have clarity on some of the facts. The UK offers safety to far fewer refugees per capita than the average European country, including France and Germany, and to far fewer than the countries neighbouring those from which 70% of the refugees from the global south flee. Behind the numbers and statistics are real people with lives, hopes, families and dreams. In the words of the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire,
“no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land” and unless
“home is the mouth of a shark” or
“the barrel of the gun”.
The bottom line is that, far too often, there are no other routes available to those fleeing violence and persecution, many of whom have family here with whom they want to be reunited. Locking them up is beyond cruel.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has warned that the Bill
“would amount to an asylum ban”, but Ministers simply do not care. They are even coming up with new ways to circumvent international law. The Bill explicitly gives them the authority to ignore future interim ECHR rulings, so even if a case were lodged in Strasbourg, they could still press on with detaining and criminalising asylum seekers while the courts are deciding—a process that can take up to three years.
The Government do not care whether the policy works—that is not what it is about. It is about dividing and ruling; it is about stoking cultural wars; it is about picking a fight with the European Court of Human Rights for cynical electoral gain. The Government certainly do not care about the human beings caught in the crossfire. If the Government seriously wanted to protect the lives at risk from small boat crossings, they would back more generous family reunification rights and support safe, functioning routes.
I have a constituent whose wife and daughters are stranded in Turkey, having fled Afghanistan in August 2021. They do not have the documents to apply for a family visa, and they are not eligible for the Afghan citizens resettlement scheme. They have played by the rules for the past 18 months and are desperate enough to consider crossing the channel to be reunited. Government Ministers have not lifted one single finger to help. Even those who are eligible for the ACRS cannot make it work. Not one Afghan has come to the UK via pathway 3 of the ACRS since it opened in June last year.
On the front page of the Bill, the Home Secretary invites Parliament to rip up international law. The only act of a Parliament that has any kind of moral integrity would be to rip up her illegal and immoral Bill, which has no place in statute.
I will support the Bill this evening. The whole point of the Bill—its overriding objective—is to decisively break the current model of the criminal smuggling gangs. In short, it seeks to remove any incentive to pay thousands of pounds to criminal gangs and to attempt to cross the English channel by boat to gain illegal entry to our country.
To put the debate into context, since 2015 we have given safe harbour to just under half a million displaced and vulnerable people from Syria, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and, of course, Ukraine. By contrast, most of the 85,000 who have entered the UK illegally since 2018 have come from safe countries, and almost all have travelled through safe countries. Of all those illegal entrants, the majority are adult males, not vulnerable families. There is no war in Albania, for example, but a quarter of recent illegal immigrants to the UK originate from there.
What has Labour’s answer been? Well, no one seems to know. At last week’s Prime Minister’s questions, all the Leader of the Opposition could do was criticise the Government’s proposals without saying anything about what his party would do differently. The shadow Home Secretary put in a similar performance the previous day, when she said that we need “slogans and not solutions” but offered nothing but empty slogans.
After three years without a policy position, Labour has hurriedly cobbled together five bullet points, none of which is original and all of which have no detail to them. Setting out aims with no measures to achieve them is not a plan; it is empty rhetoric. The Labour party has no plan to tackle illegal immigration, and, more to the point, it shows no sign of wanting one.
The Government have said that our approach is two-pronged: first, to stop the small boats, which the Bill is designed to achieve, and secondly, to expand safe and legal routes, as has been done in the case of Syria, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Ukraine, alongside an annual cap set by Parliament. I would like to hear more about that from the Government, because I believe it is important that such proposals be brought forward quickly as the Bill proceeds through Parliament. My hon. Friend David Simmonds has been vocal about the idea of creating an offshore asylum visa processing system, which I think could be helpful.
The Bill cannot be the end of the story in dealing with illegal immigration, but it is a solid foundation. At a stroke, it could destroy the business model of the criminal gangs and remove the incentive for people to risk their lives on hazardous channel crossings. The principle of the Bill is therefore clearly right, and I will be supporting it this evening.
My constituency is the most diverse in the entire country; 80% of our community has heritage from a different part of the world. Many of my constituents, including the multiple hotels that we have holding asylum seekers and refugees, welcome those people into our community. In Ilford we embrace humanity and the differences in our community. We recognise the struggles that we all face, and that blaming each other for the ills that our country faces is not the right way forward. Our local churches helped Afghan and Iraqi refugees find Korans so that they could practise their prayer. It is wrong for Conservative Members to say that this is not about our constituents.
Let me be absolutely clear—I am speaking on behalf of my constituents—that the Bill is the most inhumane and unjust piece of legislation. It will do nothing to solve any of the problems that the Home Secretary outlined today. If it passes, it will effectively criminalise asylum in this country and allow the Government to commit flagrant human rights abuses without any real consequence. The United Nations says that the Bill would breach the refugee convention and undermine a long-standing humanitarian tradition of which the British people and I are proud, instead punishing people fleeing persecution and conflict—conflict that is often the consequence of decisions taken in this place and by our country, historically or in more recent times.
In the short time that I have, I want to tackle the incendiary rhetoric from this Government. It is the playbook for the next election from a desperate Government. I have spent a large part of my life fighting the far right, not just in Barking and Dagenham but across the country. Some of the language that I have heard over the past months and days has reminded me of the language that people like Nick Griffin used to describe people. It is appalling, it is un-British, it is unacceptable, and it needs to be challenged.
In a recent report, Hope not Hate said that there is growing alignment between the language of the traditional far right and the language used by the mainstream right. Those on the Conservative Benches are supposed to be the mainstream right, but I look at that side of the House and it is just like a turbocharged UKIP. You should be ashamed of yourselves for this Bill.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I will finish simply by saying that if the desire is to prevent children from making these dangerous journeys and to protect them, the solution is clear: more safe routes for resettlement, and expanding and improving the existing family reunion schemes.
The hon. Member knows that you do not address directly other hon. Members.
After that extraordinary contribution, which mirrored a number of contributions we have heard, let me first say something about the irony of those on the Opposition Benches criticising rhetoric and incendiary language. So far, we have had one Member describe the Bill as “fascist” and one describe it as “racist”—we have gone through the whole gamut of left-wing clichés. I am not bothered, Madam Deputy Speaker; it does not concern me what any single Opposition Member thinks about what I believe and what I stand for. But it does concern me when they slander my constituents and millions of people throughout this country who have legitimate concerns about small boats and their social consequences. We are spending £6 million a day—the total is £3 billion and rising—on hotels, and we are expected, as a Parliament and a Government, simply to do nothing. I believe that this legislation is needed.
Let us get to the heart of the Bill, rather than the rhetoric that we have heard from Opposition Members. Let us see whether the British people disagree with this. The Bill makes provision for an annual cap on the number of people admitted to the UK through safe and legal routes. Who disagrees with that? Nobody. Numerous countries, all over the world, have an annual cap. Would it not be nice for this place, just for once, to take some responsibility for immigration policy—not to subcontract it to a court or somebody else, but to decide the type of immigration we need and where we need it?
Let us talk about capacity—this is never addressed by the Labour party. In my area, we have no housing, we have no doctors’ places and we have no school places. This is something the Labour party just simply wants to ignore. Migration policy is related to a number of different factors, but it is an eminently sensible policy that the people of this country support. Let us go on to the next one that is such an outrage, which is promptly removing those with no legal right to remain in the UK. That is a principle, and there is a legitimate debate to be had about how successful we have been, but how can we argue about that as a principle? There will be a legal duty on the Home Secretary to remove people within a reasonable and practicable time, and a 28-day period to allow that to happen. How on earth can that be unreasonable? This is a policy that responds, and it is what we should have.
In the current system, we have the ironic situation with the Home Office where we have doubled the number of case workers and have lost productivity. We need some targets, and we need people to be held accountable. What this Bill is about, which Opposition Members do not want, is holding each and every single one of us accountable for what we believe in terms of immigration policy and it is about how that immigration policy can be put in place in a reasonable, sound and fair way for every single person in our country.
Gary Lineker and others are right to caution about the use of language in this debate, but I think it is important that we also understand why people use the words they do. When the Home Secretary talks about invasion, when she refers to “us and them” continuously and when she tries to characterise this problem as there being millions of people waiting to come to the shores of this country, she does so for a particular reason. She does it because, generally speaking, the people of these islands are compassionate and fair-minded, and in order to get acceptance for proposals that are so inhumane and so brutal, it is first necessary to dehumanise and then demonise the people to whom those words refer. That is why the public are invited to regard migrants as some sort of amorphous collective menace and a threat to our way of life and our wellbeing, rather than the truth, which is that they are an assembly of some of the most wretched people on the earth, who have undergone unimaginable horror and have stories to tell that most of us would never wish to experience.
Let us be honest: the problem of small boats is one entirely of this Government’s making. For years, they have been playing a game of grotesque political whack-a-mole, in which the hammer of Government policy has come down on the heads of the world’s most vulnerable people every time they try to find a route through to the shores of this country. We have got to a situation where the legal routes are now so non-existent or so limited that most people have simply no alternative but to put their lives in the hands of the people smugglers on the shores of France. The truth is that until and unless we open up those safe, legal routes, this problem will continue.
The Government’s novel approach to the increasing number of people claiming asylum is now simply to make it illegal to claim asylum in the first place. That is a grotesque and absurdist logic that Franz Kafka himself would be proud of. I have heard a lot of Conservative Members talk about criminal gangs. Let me tell you this, Madam Deputy Speaker: if I was organising an organised criminal group and I was engaged in people smuggling and modern-day slavery, I would be rubbing my hands in glee at these proposals, because they alter the balance of power between these criminal gangs and the people they oppress by removing the redress and the rights that people have when they come to this country.
Finally, there is a lot of talk about how many millions this is costing. Getting rid of the cost is quite simple: process the applications and allow people to work and pay taxes while they are being considered. That would solve the problem overnight.
I am very grateful for the chance to say a few words in this debate. This is an issue that has been raised with me repeatedly on the doorsteps in Wolverhampton North East, and it is of importance to my constituents. I am really disappointed about some of the language we have heard from Opposition Members. My constituents are not without compassion and my constituents are not xenophobic, and to paint their concerns as coming from a very bad place is very disappointing.
The inability of Opposition Members to accept that we have to limit the numbers of asylum claims we process and accept into the country astounds me and my constituents. Evidently resources are limited, and we face a global migration crisis. The moral case for stopping the boats cannot be denied, and I do not hear that. A fair and just asylum system does not mean one that relies on a person’s physical fitness and ability to scramble across a continent and pay a people smuggler. A fair and just asylum system means that the most vulnerable are given the chance to claim asylum, not young men climbing into boats.
In Syria we took people from the border of a warzone. We took older and disabled people, pregnant women and those who could not make the journey. We must recognise that this is a difficult Bill to put forward. It is not a fluffy huggy bunny Bill, but in this situation we have to come to this place and make difficult choices. We need a limit, but the Bill opens more safe and legal routes for people in the greatest—[Interruption.] With a quota that we will set in this place. We will have the opportunity to decide the number of asylum claims that we process each year. I welcome the Bill and hope it works, but overwhelmingly there is a case for looking at why we have the migration crisis. It is a case for more foreign aid and for better trade links; it is a case for lifting those countries out of poverty, and ensuring that they are stabilised. That is a global problem, and the whole western world should be uniting to attempt to make progress on that. But I will not be lectured by people who, when we say we have to have a pragmatic limit on numbers, shout “shame on you, shame on you” at the Home Secretary. That is not worthy of debate in this place.
I wonder what our international partners across the globe are thinking about this Bill and this discussion, and about the fact that we are acting like a bunch of Poundshop Ukippers. Whatever happens with the Bill, I feel totally ashamed. I am ashamed as a Member of Parliament to be thinking that in the mother of all Parliaments. We are all elected; we all represent constituents with differing views, and we are talking about the best way to deny people—some of the most deprived and desperate people in the world—the right to come to this country.
It is an absolute outrage. This Bill should not, under any circumstances, see the light of day. It really shouldn’t. It pains me to say this, but there have been some decent contributions from Conservative Members, who I have lots of respect for. But my goodness there has been some rhetoric. And I will not take any lectures on rhetoric, because what has been said tonight is that every hotel—nearly every hotel—in the UK is now full of refugees. What a load of nonsense coming from the Conservative Benches.
They also referred to a number of other issues. Don’t not talk to me about compassion. It is only a matter of months since the previous Home Secretary wanted to have wave machines to blast these people back on to the shores of France. We have a situation in a Brighton hotel where 137 kids are missing. Don’t talk to me about compassion. We are talking about real people here. It is absolutely essential that we do not get into a number crunching game about the nitty gritty of looking after people. Be proud. Of course we are proud to be British. Be proud and stand firm on behalf of these people. Put these people before politics. Recover some semblance of humanity. Scrap this ghastly toxic Bill and support some of the most desperate people in the world.
The public expect action on small boats and illegal migration. The main issues raised with me are illegality, asylum seeker hotels, and safe and legal routes. I will come on to those points in a moment.
It is clearly extremely dangerous and not sustainable to have 45,000 people arriving across the channel in small boats, many of whom are paying people smugglers. It is not sustainable for our own communities, housing and services. Many councils, including Labour councils, say that they absolutely cannot cope and are not able to take additional people at the moment. The Stroud public also know that this is an international issue, something that is often lost in the debate online. It is an international issue and it has a very serious national security bent, too. I find that, away from social media, all the yelling and the noise of shouting down anything—literally anything—that the Government try to do on this issue, people really understand that the Government have to do absolutely everything they possibly can. Given that we are legislators, it is not a surprise that we are going to try to legislate.
On hotel accommodation, my constituents know that I have worked really hard and been very careful not to use my social media or my platform to draw attention to hotels or to asylum seekers in our county of Gloucestershire. Given the attacks on various hotels and places around the country, I do not think it is fair or responsible to communities to do that. Instead, I have spoken to people directly. I have held meetings and I have had police down to particular parts of my constituency. I have spoken before about my disappointment and anger that hotels have been placed in inappropriate areas that we know will cause difficulties. The hotels have to close and I want to hear more from the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick about when that will happen.
On safe and legal routes, like many of my constituents I of course want to see safe and legal routes that are controlled. Unfortunately, that term has become quite nebulous. We have to nail down what it means. The reality is that the safe and legal route policy should work transparently alongside the Bill. It is good that it is referenced, but we need to have that transparency. I want to know whether my right hon. Friend will consider creating a super clear, simple, and safe legal route policy. I look to the recent leader in The Spectator, which talked about the simple policy of a safe route being created for each illegal migrant who is returned. That is gloriously simple and I think it would deal with a lot of the concerns of the public. I think it would also pull the pants down from the Opposition.
We can agree or disagree with Gary Lineker on his choice of words, but he was perfectly entitled to say what he did about the vile incendiary language of the governing party, who have spoken of refugees as invasions and swarms, and how he sees the parallels with the rhetoric of 1930s Germany. What he expressed was a cry out: a warning from history. We remember the horrors of the past in order to learn the lessons in the present and ensure they are never repeated.
In their desperate bid to hold on to power and distract from their disastrous handling of the economy, where working people have seen their standards of living decimated under 13 years of austerity, the Tories are, at very best, playing culture war cards. They are trying to distract attention away from their failures by using the age old far right strategy of scapegoating and dehumanising the most desperate of people, pointing the finger at them to say, “They are the cause of our problems,” as was explained by Sir Robert Syms. With breathtaking disregard for basic humanity, Ministers are now determined to deny refugees their most fundamental human rights. They are not even trying to hide it—it is explicit on the face of the Bill.
The Home Secretary has been advised that the Bill will, more likely than not, be found to breach the European convention, but nevertheless she told the House that she was confident that it was compatible. That is either gross stupidity and incompetence or much, much worse. We should worry about a Home Secretary who admits to dreaming of expelling refugees to Rwanda and who has used such disgraceful language as “invasion” to describe the arrival of refugees by the English channel.
The UK did the right thing by responding to Putin’s war crimes with the Homes for Ukraine scheme, but how is the plight of the people involved any different from someone fleeing Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen? Do they not feel pain? Did they not lose their homes or have loved ones killed in plain sight? Do they not deserve our compassion and assistance? It beggars belief that the Government claim to be compassionate. The Bill is not compassionate; it is cruel, heartless and wicked and goes against any claims they have of providing a welcome sanctuary to refugees. As we are one of the prime architects of and signatories to the conventions on refugees and human rights, this evil Bill brings shame on this House and on this nation. I urge all right hon. and hon. Members to vote against it tonight.
For my constituents, the Bill is long awaited. They want us to crack down on the horrific people smugglers, stop small boat crossings, remove those who have no right to be here and deny asylum to those who illegally cross our borders from safe countries.
People voted in overwhelming numbers in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire to take back control of our borders, and they expect this Government to deliver. Stoke-on-Trent has done more than most to welcome those in the greatest need—more than 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers have now been accommodated, not to mention the Ukrainians and others who have been taken in by local families having arrived as a result of Putin’s barbaric war. But we can only take so much. There is certainly no room for chancers from safe countries who are paying big money to shameless smugglers to play the system.
Small boat smuggling is unfair, immoral and unsustainable. The pressure on local health services, schools, social services and the third sector has been significant. I welcome the new Home Office hub in Stoke-on-Trent, which will help to clear the backlog of cases. For too long, all the accommodation pressures have rested on a small number of authorities—including Stoke-on-Trent—defined as resettlement areas, in a “Hotel California” scheme that is supposedly voluntary but with no ability to leave. We were forced to accept totally unsustainable numbers, often in totally inappropriate locations.
I am pleased that the Government have listened and taken action to ensure a more equitable distribution across the country but, ultimately, action is needed to reduce the overall number entering the UK illegally in the first place. I welcome the Bill and the measures announced by the Prime Minister both in December and last week. Unprecedented pressures necessitate unprecedented actions. The actions in the Bill will break the people smugglers’ model. I hope that they will be properly resourced and implemented.
The Home Office must restore our confidence in its ability to deliver, particularly on detention and removal. There is an abundance of determination on that on the Front Bench, which I hope is shared across Government. It is vital that we ensure that the measures are legally watertight and do not face ongoing challenges by Labour-backed lawyers, as we have seen with Rwanda. Everything possible must be done to ensure that the Bill is incontrovertible. We will not enjoy the support of the general public unless we tackle these issues.
The Bill is about fairness and ensuring that illegal migrants cannot jump the queue. It is about ensuring that we never again allow the generosity and compassion of the British people to be abused by unscrupulous people smugglers and bogus claimants.
We have heard a shamefully grim level of debate from some Government Members. The debate has lacked compassion and logic, but I want to start on a positive. Last night, something truly historic happened: Ke Huy Quan became the first east and south-east Asian actor to win an Oscar. He said:
“My journey started on a boat. I ended up in a refugee camp….They say stories like this only happen in the movies…This is the American dream.”
Why is that story of success not a British dream, especially when people such Mo Farah have had a similar experience, filling stadiums, smashing records and being wrapped in a Union flag? Why is that hope and aspiration crushed before it even starts? Because of fear and failure —13 years of Tory failure, to be exact; a failure to provide any sense of international leadership or to negotiate workable deals with other countries. And at home, this Government are making 40% fewer asylum decisions a year than they were in 2015, leaving 160,000 people waiting in limbo for much longer and pushing up accommodation costs. This immigration Bill is based on fear—the fear of the Prime Minister and Home Secretary losing a grip on their own party.
People of faith often speak about the opposite of fear—hope. And they have spoken out against the Bill. The Board of Deputies has shared its concerns and, earlier today, I met members of the Jain community, whose focus is on compassion for all living things, not on this. Last June, all the bishops in the House of Lords signed a letter raising alarm about the Rwanda policy. Today, the Archbishop of York joined the Muslim Council of Britain and 350 other charities and faith organisations to condemn the Bill, saying it was “immoral and inept”.
Normally, that level of criticism would make a Government stop and think, but we are not in ordinary times. Instead, we have yet another Prime Minister who is so desperate to stay in power and keep the Conservative party together that he is willing to tear a country apart. That is the base level of the Bill—the Government blaming others and reaching for unworkable, inhumane covers for their own wretched failure.
My grandparents’ generation, which fought in the war, will not be fooled, and neither will generation Z. Last week, Luton Sixth Form College celebrated its culture day, which was beautiful, exciting and harmonious. Those young people know that there is strength in diversity, not fear. That is true strength. What we hear today is fear, the only card that this clapped-out Conservative Government have left to play. As our faith communities, the generation that fought against division and hatred, and our young people all know, Britain is so much better than this Bill, and our country is so much better than the Conservative Government give it credit for.
Order. It is obvious that not everyone will get in. The final speakers—they know who they are—have said that they will try to take two minutes, which means that I can get four more speakers in. David Simmonds will lead the way.
Away from the noise and heat, there are a number of elements of the Bill that are to be welcomed and that have had cross-party support in the past. They include the principle of a cap, which we already operate with our resettlement schemes; the principle of consultation with local authorities to determine the capacity that the country has to accommodate newly arrived refugees; and, in particular, the focus on early and swift decision-making. In my view, those are strong reasons to support the Bill this evening.
Clearly, the focus will be mainly on areas where there is a need for improvement, and I will simply highlight two such areas. First, there is a need to clarify the interaction between clauses 15 to 18 of the Bill and the Children Act 2004. There is a long history of the Home Office taking a view about the primacy of immigration legislation, simply for it to be overturned on judicial review by the courts, which take the view that duties contained in the Children Act come first. We need to ensure that this legislation is watertight, and that it will serve the interests of unaccompanied children in a way that is practical and operable.
Finally, the key weakness I see at the moment, which we need to address, is the lack of a permission stage for those wishing to claim asylum in the UK. If people wish to work, get married or study here, they have to apply for a visa before they travel to the UK, then we decide to whom we will issue visas and how many we are going to issue. In respect of asylum, there is no such process of control. My argument to the Front Bench and to the Government is that we should introduce an asylum visa. We would give ourselves genuine control over who arrives in the UK, how many people come, in what numbers and where they go, and avoid the risk of both a free-for-all and the legal challenges that are a significant peril for the Bill.
Last year, child poverty nearly doubled, workers’ wages fell at the fastest rate in decades and there was a more than 25% jump in people sleeping on the streets, while our schools and hospitals continued to crumble with their funding slashed. These are the crises that grip our country, but instead of addressing them, the Tories focus on this: whipping up fear and hate, demonising people who flee war and torture and whose only supposed crime is wanting to rebuild their lives in Britain.
This Bill is not really about stopping the boats. No one believes it will do that. It is about scapegoating. It is about diverting attention. It is about pretending that the crisis we face is people arriving in dinghies, not growing poverty and inequality. It is about pretending that the challenges our constituents face are not due to soaring bills and a collapsing NHS but due to refugees. This Bill is really about divide and rule. It is about the Tories’ plan to get ahead in the polls and desperately cling to power, even if that means breaking international law and throwing refugees under the bus. I do not think anyone believes that this Bill will work on its own terms. I do not think Government Members believe it will work.
The real problem is the terms that the Bill sets. These are not boats that we are legislating on, but people. They are people the vast majority of whom have their asylum claims accepted once they are here, and who are taking this route because the Government have closed safe routes for refugees and refuse to create new ones.
This is really a crisis of compassion. It is a crisis of solidarity that has been created by those at the top. A decade ago it was David Cameron who called refugees a “swarm”; today the Home Secretary uses the far-right language of an “invasion”. Instead of pandering to the right-wing press and attacking the rights of refugees, let us defeat this Bill and actually address the real sources of the problems in this country.
I will continue the trend of highlights without commentary. Of the 45,000 people who crossed the channel illegally in 2022, we know that 27% were Albanian and 74% were males under 40, as the Home Secretary highlighted earlier. That is on top of the hotels that have been costing us up to £6 million per day, putting our public services and our NHS under great strain.
Today’s debate is actually about fairness. We are a fair country and a welcoming country, as we have shown with Ukraine, with Syria, with Afghanistan and with Hong Kong—with the 89,000 people from Ukraine and 18,900 from Afghanistan. This is a humane policy, tackling the people smuggling gangs responsible for the deaths in the channel, which cannot continue. We must make processing times shorter and we must clear the backlog for the genuine refugees. That is what today’s Bill is about, so I welcome the plans to tackle it and I welcome the wider package of measures—not just the Bill, but everything else we are introducing.
Some people want to make this about the ECHR and whether we stay or leave. That is a debate for another time, but I think all hon. Members will agree that that is a better reason to make this legislation work. Show that we can control our borders—that is my challenge to the Opposition. Vote with us today and show that it can be done. But this is an Opposition who have shown patronising views of countries such as Rwanda, who have campaigned to drag murderers off flights and who want open borders, blanket approvals and amnesties for those who are cheating our system. I support this legislation 100%.
The Government have failed to build a system that takes on the refugee and migrant-related challenges of this century, shows compassion to those who so desperately need it and deals with the very small number of people who seek to exploit it. Let us not forget that stopping the boats once and for all can be attained only by calling time on the criminal gangs that seek to exploit the most vulnerable. Nothing in the Bill addresses that issue. This Government have no interest in penalising the perpetrators; they are more concerned with playing to the gallery, even if that means pursuing a cruel and impractical policy that they themselves know will not work.
The Bill is not worth the paper it is written on. It is a hallmark, pure and simple, of a desperate Government who have long run out of ideas in their last-ditch attempt to cling on to power. This Government are seeking to use wedge issues to drive division in our society and mask their fundamental failings in every other aspect of public life. That is the reality facing our communities after 13 years of failure by this Conservative Government, and it is not the fault of refugees.
I am proud that my city of Liverpool, as a city of sanctuary, plays its part in the support of the most vulnerable from overseas—people who have fled violence, persecution and genocide. The Bill does nothing to deal with criminal gangs, nothing to assist the victims of modern slavery, and nothing to address returns agreements—and so much more. It is time to scrap this Bill, go back to the drawing board, and build a system that will deliver for the British people and those seeking refuge from overseas.
Because this has been such an incredibly well-subscribed debate, in the time available to me I will not be able to thank all my hon. Friends individually for their excellent contributions, so I hope they will forgive me for thanking them all collectively. I also want to thank some Conservative Members for their excellent and insightful contributions, particularly, of course, Mrs May.
I am old enough to remember a Conservative Home Secretary, Priti Patel, standing at that Dispatch Box and promising the House that her new Nationality and Borders Bill would
“deter illegal entry to the UK…break the business model of the smuggling gangs and protect the lives of those whom they are endangering.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 699, c. 706.]
Fast-forward two years, and scroll your way through a few more Prime Ministers and Home Secretaries, and here we are again having to listen to the same old reheated rhetoric and empty promises. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The Conservative party likes to claim that it stands for secure borders, but when the last Labour Government left office in 2010, fewer than 10,000 people were waiting for a decision for a claim for asylum. The number now stands at more than 160,000, the highest since records began. Conservative Members will also recognise that the number of failed asylum seekers being returned has decreased by an astonishing 80% since 2010. The reality is that, since 2010, successive Conservative Governments have lost control of our borders, and the people smugglers are laughing all the way to the bank.
Another bit of nonsense being peddled on the Conservative Benches is that this Bill will stop the boats. Everyone agrees that the small boat crossings must be stopped. Thousands of people are risking life and limb, and it is utterly appalling that the people smugglers are making millions from this trade in human misery. The fundamental question is whether the measures in the Bill can reasonably be expected to solve the problem, and the answer to that question is a clear and resounding no. In fact, if the Bill were passed, it would actively make matters worse by adding further to the enormous asylum backlog, and by piling further cost on to the staggering £7 million-a-day hotel bill that is currently being picked up by the British taxpayer.
The Government can label channel crossers “inadmissible” or “illegal” all they want, and they can promise that they will be detained and swiftly removed until the cows come home, but the fact is that Ministers are completely unable to answer two obvious and vitally important questions: “Detained where?” and “Removed to where?” Rwanda is a non-starter because the Rwandan Government can only take 200—and how on earth are the Government planning to send asylum seekers back across the channel unless we have a formal returns agreement with the EU to replace the Dublin convention? Ministers tried all this last year: under the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, they made 18,000 people inadmissible, and how many did they remove or return? Twenty-one. Let me therefore encourage Ministers to drop their obsession with chasing tabloid headlines, and to focus instead on prioritising measures which will actually work.
That brings me to the final myth that needs busting: the idea that we on these Benches have somehow not been putting forward our own proposals. Every single time the Leader of the Opposition, the shadow Home Secretary and I have come to this Dispatch Box, we have set out exactly how Labour in government will tackle the small boat crossings and fix an asylum system that has been utterly broken by 13 years of Tory incompetence and indifference, but it appears Conservative Members have not been paying attention, so let me remind them of our plan.
First, we will scrap the unaffordable, unworkable and unethical Rwanda scheme, and redirect all that wasted taxpayer money into resourcing a 100-strong elite cross- border police unit to relentlessly pursue the real enemy—the ruthless criminal gangs and traffickers—and ensure that we tackle this upstream, working with the French and across Europe to defeat the gangs.
Secondly, we will negotiate a returns agreement with the EU as a matter of urgency. Successive Conservative Governments since 2016 have focused on trashing relations with our European partners and allies, so the Prime Minister has a mountain to climb in rebuilding the trust that will be required as the basis of securing a returns deal. We wish him well, but the reality is that it is going to take a Labour Government to pick up the pieces and succeed where this Government have so badly failed.
Thirdly, we will introduce long overdue measures to get a grip on the decision-making process for asylum claims. We will clear the backlog once and for all by establishing an effective triage system and by reversing the absurd and incomprehensible decision to downgrade the seniority of key Home Office officials. Fourthly, while the Government do little more than pay lip service to the idea of safe and legal routes, we will act to fix the current resettlement programmes, including the broken Afghanistan pathways.
It is time to let the grown-ups back into the room. Three years ago, many people who had never voted Tory before put their trust in this Government because they wanted secure borders, controlled migration and competent governance, but absolutely none of those things has been delivered. So it is little wonder that the country has had enough of a Government who cynically bring forward Bills that are far more about scapegoating and slogans than they are about solutions, and it is little wonder that it has had enough of a Government who know that they cannot stand on their record and who are instead planning to fight the general election on a platform that is all about stoking anxiety, fear and division.
The good news is that the British people are not stupid. They watch as Conservative Ministers blame everyone else for their own failures: they blame the civil servants; they blame the lawyers; they blame the European Union and the ECHR; and they even blame the football pundits. But our constituents know exactly where the buck stops. They know that the day is approaching when they will be able to vote for a Labour Government who will tackle the small boats crisis and deal with the myriad other challenges and crises that our country is facing after 13 years of Tory failure, and they know that that day cannot come soon enough.
This has been a passionate debate characterised by many excellent speeches, and I commend among others on my side my hon. Friend Sir Robert Neill, my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh and my hon. Friend Matt Warman for a series of outstanding speeches. I commend none more than my hon. Friend Tom Randall, who said that his constituent had told him:
“I implore you to vote to stop this vile trade…and you and your fellow MPs can make it happen.”
He spoke for the country.
As my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have made clear, we must stop the boats and secure our borders. Our approach is guided by that most British of values: fairness. The present situation is anything but fair. Ours is a generous and compassionate country and we will continue to offer sanctuary and refuge to those fleeing persecution, conflict and tyranny, but we will not accept mass illegal migration to our shores, orchestrated by people smugglers. It is for that reason that we are introducing this Bill today, to address this challenge once and for all.
Let me start by addressing some of the important points that were raised, first by those hon. and right hon. Members who have argued for the exclusion of children and families from the scheme or the detention powers. This is a difficult and sensitive topic, but let me be clear: we cannot allow women and children to be used as pawns in the people smugglers’ despicable trade. I have seen for myself the depravity of the people-smuggling gangs. There is no low to which they would not stoop. They have no regard for human life. If we were inadvertently to create an incentive to split up families and to encourage adults to make false claims, there is no doubt in my mind that the people-smuggling gangs would do it. That is why we will handle this issue with the sensitivity it deserves, but we will also ensure that we break the evil people smugglers’ model.
My right hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs May) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) both spoke powerfully about the modern slavery frameworks they forged and the need to protect genuine victims. We agree. The Government are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery and to supporting victims, and it is for that reason that we want to prevent abuse. Just 6% of detentions ending in 2019 involved a modern slavery referral, rising to 53% in 2020 and 73% in 2021. We have to defend the modern slavery architecture by reforming it and ensuring that it is not open to abuse.
Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, spoke eloquently, but she could not bring herself to say that those crossing the channel in small boats are illegal or that it is wrong to break into our country.
No, I will not.
Nor could the shadow Home Secretary explain what these migrants, the overwhelming majority of whom are young men, fleeing through Greece, through Italy, through Germany, through Belgium, through the Netherlands and, indeed, through France are actually fleeing. She lamented the absence of a European replacement for the Dublin agreement, but she failed to mention that just 1% of the UK’s transfer requests were granted in 2020 and that, year after year, we took back more people than we transferred. She did not provide one credible proposal to stop the boats, which should come as no surprise because, when Labour announced its five missions, stopping the boats did not even feature. Labour has literally nothing to say.
The right hon. Lady was sensible enough not to say it, but her Back Benchers betrayed the real views of the Labour party. They queued up, one after another, to dismiss the perfectly reasonable concerns of the British public as “racist” and “fascist.”
And from the SNP we heard what can only be described as performative compassion. In her 25 minutes, Alison Thewliss did not mention the fact that Scotland accounts for 8% of the UK’s population but hosts only 1% of all migrants in initial and contingency accommodation. In fact, there are more migrants housed in contingency accommodation in Kensington than there are in the entirety of Scotland. The SNP’s message is clear: “Refugees welcome, but not in SNP Scotland.”
Let me be clear that this country will always provide support to those in need, and nothing in this Bill will ever change that. As we have seen with the 500,000 people who entered this country in recent years on humanitarian visas—more than at any time in our modern history—this country believes in dealing with migrants with dignity, but it also believes that there is no dignity in the dinghies. There is no humanity in the people smugglers, and we have to break their business model. That is why we brought forward this Bill.
There is a simple choice before us. Is it for the British Government or for the people-smuggling gangs to decide who enters this country? On this side of the House, we believe that, without border controls, national security is ultimately compromised, that the fabric of communities begins to fray and that public services come under intolerable pressure. Although we should always be generous to those in need, we believe there are limits to the support we can provide. It is Members on this side of the House who are on the right side of the moral debate. It is clear that, for that reason, we will stop the boats, we will secure our borders and I commend this Bill to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made.